Thursday, July 29, 2010

Shocked into Feeling

I had a conversation with an acquaintance a while ago about film we had both seen. This particular movie was trying to convey a political message, a well-intentioned message about how the greedy desires of tyrants and politicians have ruined a people and a country. This point was illustrated, however, by a disturbing act of cruelty against a child. I found it to be terribly shocking and disturbing.

I told this acquaintance that I understood that terrible things happen, and that there was value in being aware of these as a responsible world citizen, but that I wasn't sure I needed to see them so brutally depicted. She said that they did need to be seen and read, but I did, I find I still do, disagree.

There are many books and movies that fall into this category. I believe they are created with good goals of getting people outside themselves, getting them to see the world and want to make it better. They often come up in conversations as "a book/film everyone must see." I find however, that their tactic is to shock viewers/readers into feeling something. In doing so they discount the subtleties of human emotion. I don't think it takes quite so much to get us to want to feel something and live better. I also think that the more we have to be shocked into feeling something, the less shocking some of those horrors will become in the long run.

I felt the devastating horror of the holocaust when I learned about it as a child in school. I didn't need to see the people marched to the incinerators and burned gruesomely before my eyes to understand what happened there. I cried when I read the newspaper account of what happened to a girl who was abducted in my home state. I don't need to watch the TV movie with all the gruesome details displayed to feel sorrow about what happened to that little girl.

I understand that people want to see reality depicted in media. I don't suggest that we gloss over the dark parts of history, or only read pretty fluffy stories with happy endings. But at the same time I would suggest that we take care not to dull our human sensibilities by repeatedly forcing ourselves to read and watch brutal and gruesome acts, until slowly, someday, they don't seem quite so brutal anymore.