Sunday, August 09, 2009

Life, the Universe, and Everything...melting...


That's the answer to the question of Life, the Universe and Everything in Douglas Adams' immortal work The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy.

It's also the humidex reading today. That's about 108 F. Yep, summer's here. Rather than bore you with yet another weather rant, I'll rant about something else. I gotta vent about something in this heat or I'll go redline. (Sorry...)

I was reading a review of a video game called Dawn of Discovery--well, it's called that in the U.S. and Canada, because apparently we're too stupid to translate a single word of Latin: off this benighted continent it goes by its real name, Anno 1404. Can't find the review online, but it made a point of saying that in Europe, video games are decidedly less violent than they are in the United States, and speculated why that might be: there are still people alive in Europe who remember war and occupation, and thus the culture is not inclined to view violence as entertainment.
Well, duh.
It strikes me as utterly mad that we inundate our children with violence and then suggest that just because it's on a screen it's somehow less real to them. (Indeed, these days I've taken to wondering if teens believe things on screens to be "more real than real"...but that's a rant for another day.)

I can't help but wonder: would we have to experience the horrors Europe is so prone to, if our culture is to, in the end, become more sane? Why should that be? What is wrong with people?

When I was a pre-teen, I was briefly in counselling for something or other, I disremember what, exactly. In the course of my appointments, it was discovered (or rather, asserted) that I had great difficulty differentiating between fantasy and reality...because I unfailingly reacted to fantastical images and stories as if they were real.
I thought that was utter bushwah then and still think so. How else was I (am I) supposed to react? Am I supposed to watch a man mutilated on a big screen, shrug my shoulders, and think to myself, well, that's just fine, because hey, even if it happened in front of me, it didn't really happen in front of me?
My first question, viewing such, is why. In a world as sick as ours, is it truly necessary to infect even our escapist fare with sickness?

In discussing this blog entry with my wife prior to its composition, I sketched out the above and was rewarded with "well, that explains a lot."
"Do you think this is why you are so adamant about the difference between reality and fantasy?"
"Uh...I never really thought about it, but yes, probably."
When you come with an overdeveloped empathy gland, people are forever making little assumptions about you, assumptions like "he can't tell the difference between fantasy and reality." My response--"of course I can, but who cares?" draws mostly puzzled stares. So I'm always trying to make it perfectly clear what I find real and what I find fake. Which, come to think of it, is probably the underlying reason I hate so-called "reality" television...because it's so obviously fake, and yet dares to call itself real.

Violence and death--whether it shows up on a screen, in a book (fiction or otherwise) or on last night's police docket--is distasteful to me. There's a passage in Pat Conroy's excellent novel The Lords of Discipline that crystallizes this fundamental difference between myself and seemingly everyone around me:

Nothing made the college prouder than the death of a graduate in combat. We kept a tally of those fallen heroes and felt that we were in direct competition with the service academies as to who would have the most graduates killed in Vietnam. Careful records were kept, and when Colonel David Foxworth Johnson was killed while leading a night patrol in October of 1966, we pulled ahead of West Point for the first time. When the Regimental Adjutant announced this fact, the mess hall ignited in a spontaneous chant from the Corps, "We're Number One. We're Number One. We're Number One." It was done with the highly oxygenated esprit of boys still young enough to laugh at death. The black, grisly humor of the barracks even viewed the death of heroes with a gruff and vigorous irreverance. Until we began to recognize the names of the graduates killed, until we began to hear the names of friends included on the fatality lists. Then, the war became ugly and serious; then, and only then, did it become real.

Reading that for the first time, I was appalled. But, I thought to myself, even if I don't recognize a name, somebody does. Everyone is somebody's friend: does the mere fact that nameless, faceless soldier is not mine grant me permission to laugh at his death? I think not. War is real ugly and real serious no matter where it happens.
And then I'm checking myself: Ken, it's a book. A work of fiction, albeit strongly autobiographical.
So what? That scene is certainly written as if it actually happened. I have little doubt it did. Conroy wants me to believe it did in the context of his story, at any rate.
I think people thought I'd outgrow this oddity. I haven't. It's still here, still strong, and still, on occasion, very hard to live with. But I'd rather have it than not. Lose the empathy and I might as well lose my sanity.

Now the humidex is 43, but I feel a little better.


Rocketstar said...

I loved that book. The US has it ass backwards, so concerned with nudity (god's creation) but ok with blood and guts (man's sick creation).

Ken Breadner said...

You, too, Rocket? If I had to do a list of my favorite books ever--I couldn't really, but if I did--I think Lords of Discipline would be top ten, perhaps top five. Great book.