Tuesday, November 17, 2009

The Gory Details

Should the public be spared the gory details of unpleasant things such as war or rape, asks a participant in a discussion.* Is there no role for narrative that tells us in the first person what certain horrible experiences are like? In brief, no.

Let me put this in context.

We live in a world soaked in portrayals and testimonials of gore, human, animal, plant and possibly even mineral. We are so overloaded with these sounds, images and words that there is a surfeit of Holocaust jokes, Christa McAuliffe jokes and dead Kennedy jokes.

I confess I told a September 11 joke while the towers were still smoldering (something to do with the World Trade Center's architectural design, or lack thereof) and George W. Bush told another one to his budget chief in the next few days (something about hitting a presidential disaster "trifecta").

We joke about these things because it is part of the human condition. Nothing new.

There is nothing about war, rape, genocide, hunger or suicide airplane hijackers (aka "terrorists") that we haven't heard of, seen replayed umpteen times on television, read the book, the novel, the film treatment of the novel, the T-shirt and the bumper sticker. Anyone beyond the age of 11 (and quite a few below) who denies this either (a) has been sequestered in a jury panel since 1963; (b) lives on another planet; or (c) is lying.

Want war gore? Read "Johnny Got His Gun" by Dalton Trumbo. Get off on genocide? Oh, where to start ... ? Try "Eichmann in Jerusalem" by Hannah Arendt. Rape? Try 2 Samuel 13:1-21.

There is nothing new about this. Nothing worth retelling. No one will stop war, genocide or rape because of a good first-person narrative. The only thing more "literary" or "artistic" gore serves is the narcissism of the writer or artist, who fleetingly gets attention for work that is utterly unoriginal.

Don't feed Narcissus.



* See Son of Polanski or Abandonment vs Rape for links to the discussion.
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