Tuesday, April 20, 2010


Today in school, one of the boy I know walked up and started doodling on me. (It was debate. This isn't uncommon.) Generally, there are smiley faces, lewd sayings, or proclamations that 'SO AND SO TOTALLY OWNS SAM!' Generally, I find it kinda amusing. However, today, what did I get? A swastika.
I know that it's a modern symbol in many parts of Asia. I know that it has a long, rich history. However, I also know that it was a sign used to represent one of the darkest times in recent history.
Oh, and one other thing? Um, well, you see, dear boy, there are Jewish people within my family. In fact, quite close within my family.
So, today, I didn't really find it amusing.
I'm not posting to rant about ignorance. The fact is, the boy knew what he was doing and quite honestly, while I snapped and him and made him get it off of me, there wasn't too much I could do. Why?
Well, if you're American, maybe you've heard of the Living Room War. Maybe you have if you aren't American. I can't speak for anyone from outside of the town I live in, but I know the story of that war. It was Vietnam. It's what television first entered into war. Before that, war was kind of glorious. At that point, when people saw what war was actually like, they were horrified. Disgusted.
Anymore, though?
War is not that big of a deal to teenagers. When we talk about genocide in class, people hardly blink. When we watched Anne Frank in eighth grade, some kids were even laughing during several scenes.
From the time we were small, we have been bombarded by pictures. It's the Living Room War in reverse. Back then, it was the first time people had seen horrible things like that. For my generation? We see it every day; fake, sure, but it doesn't look all that different than the real thing. I saw my first R rated movie a long time ago. I've been reading about war for years. Recently, I watched a movie where blood cascaded out of casino machines in these really nasty rivers, and bodies hung from the ceiling.
Disturbing? Sure. But not nearly as much as it should have been.
The boy that drew the symbol didn't mean anything by it. I guess you can argue that it's only a symbol, and that symbols don't have power. But I don't think so. I think it's something else; I think it's that my generation is a tad different than previous ways. It isn't that we're a sick generation, or even a jaded generation.
We're desensitized.
Not all of us, sure. I still cry when I see really horrible things and so does most everyone else. But too often, I've got myself just saying 'Huh. That sucks' when I read about something bad. In English, when we talked about the gladiator fights, no one even cringed.
It's weird, huh?
I heard something once. I'm not sure if it's true, but it seems probable. Decades back, some people went to a theater. It was the first time. A train was in that particular flick; a train that came barreling towards the viewers.
They fled the theater in mortal fear.
Now, to get someone to cringe, you've got to do more. I'm squeamish, but it takes a lot to really, REALLY creep me out.
This isn't just a rant about the media and ignorance and all that jazz, though. It pertains in this way to my general topics;
How do you write for an audience that has seen everything? How do you pull that gut wrenching feeling out of a kid who has been watching horrors and reading tragedies for literally most of their life?
Authors do it. But how?
It isn't in the blood and the gore. Sure, it could be, occasionally, that a really nasty scene has people--or at least me--grimacing. But that's not what gets the true reaction.
It's suspense.
But beyond that, I think it's making sure that the reader really empathizes with the character. They aren't just sympathetic--the reader truly, truly needs to feel for the character. If something happens to a friend of yours, you will be horrified. If it happens to a stranger? Sure, it'll suck, but you might not have the same reaction. It's a disgusting truth, but it seems to stand solidly.
--rant at disgust of the modern world? Nah. We have our problems, but so does everyone. Just look at Rome and the discarded children. THAT was sad--
Anyway. What do you think? Are you growling at how annoying I am? Do you agree? A mix of both? (Hey, I admit, I can be annoying. :P)
More later. And that post, I promise, will have pictures.


Bish Denham said...

A powerful and introspective post. I have wondered many of the same things. I wish I had an answer. Turning off the TV and video games is about the only one I have.

Maddie said...

I KNOW! I was thinking the same thing that day honestly. When (blankety blank insert name here) drew the swastika on your arm I was kinda mortified. Considering I know your background I was like not cool....but then I find myself wondering if I would've been as horrified if I wasn't a close friend or didn't know your family...I know I would've found it inmature regardless but would it have actually drawn a greater reaction? It's an interesting concept. Disturbing, yet interesting all the same.( Oh, and let me tell you I was cringing behind you in English. I hate guts and gore and such. Which is bad considering I should've been cringing at the brutality of throwing people into a stadium to watch them be slaughtered. Wow...we are an awful generation.)

Aspen said...

Wow, great post! Really gets you thinking.

Yes, sadly, we remain unmoved by gross images. And we even tune into some really messed up stuff to be "ok". Like when I was reading Hunger Games, I got caught up in the smaller things. And the few times I actually put the book down when I was reading it, I had totally forgotten I was reading a book about kids who are sent on a reality TV show against their will to slaughter each other.

I totally agree with you that the only way to actually reach your readers and move them is to make them feel what your character feels and make them feel sympathy for the character. I think in the days we live today, the only way to get to people (or in our case, our readers) is to have the catastrophe in question spiritual, not physical. It might require some practice for us authors in really sick and twisted thoughts, but I think it's the only way to make it work.

Ok, this one's also way too long. Stopping now, promise!

cipherqueen said...

"We're desensitized."

Oh, yes. Not all of us, as you said, but most. And only authors can draw us into the minds of the characters and give us that "fourth dimension" that always strikes the heart. I'll stop being romantic now, I promise!

Myself, I was sheltered from all that. Sure, people look at me like an alien for crying at every. single. movie. no. matter. what. But hey, I'm a sensitive person! My mom says it's a good thing. ;D Says it shows I really care.

Not that I'm about to be Miss America and try to bring world peace or anyhing... dude, way too much work that'll get trashed...