A woman I studied permaculture with in early 2010 had never seen footage of the World Trade Center towers collapsing. Even now, when I think of what I saw and heard September 11, 2001, it feels so surreal. How I envied that woman! How I wish I could erase those images!
Because even as removed as television is from being right there, it still offers little buffer to one’s body. It is as if you are right there, experiencing an event or a situation. I cannot help but believe this is true with most everything we see on TV, whether fiction or the “news” or a boxing match.
That is part of the reason why I undertook a 30-day challenge to modify my visual diet. In some ways, I did well. For example, I have a tendency to channel-surf around Nat Geo and Discovery. Discovery’s programming—in my opinion—has gone to the dogs in recent years. I have tended to watch crime-related shows, but I put these on my “no-watch” list and I did not watch any these past 30 days. I find these shows dramatize the violence over an entire hour, though they could summarize a case in 10 minutes or less. Yeah, I know, that doesn’t make for “interesting” television. So, these are shows I will refrain from watching.
That said, I did not give up the summer series, Under the Dome, though if it’s continued beyond this coming week, I may. The whole idea of being stuck with a bunch of people who are so deeply influenced by one person who has only his best interests in mind does not appeal to me. And I can’t help but wonder if, deep down, the lopsided portrayal of such an influence makes a mockery of most people, who probably would be skeptical about anything a politician (whether in Congress or on the city council) says or does. Which brings me to a different program—House of Cards.
This program, originally released online by Netflix, won an Emmy this summer. I generally like Kevin Spacey’s work, and this is what drew my interest. But I am weary of Washington. From my previous work, I am familiar enough with political Washington to find the show believable. But before I was even through the second episode, I found myself asking why I was watching this. Is it really necessary to dramatize this stuff?
Of course, you can go back to the ancients to get your fill of political drama. But I still wonder, when such behavior is glamorized and then validated by the act of watching it, whether we are making good choices. Maybe I sound like a prude, but I want better for us and I believe we can be—and do—better.
I rounded out the month with The Cotton Club. I have wanted to watch this movie again for a while. I’d seen it a couple of times before, once when it came out in 1984 and once in the 1990s. I skipped the 2000s. Why did I want to see it again? For the singing and dancing—those are what I most remembered enjoying: Gregory and Maurice Hines and the hoofers, the dance numbers at the club, and the songs. The Hines brothers appeared years ago on Sesame Street, a show I enjoyed, so maybe I have a subconscious bent toward them—and tap.
But I probably should not have watched it. I did not recall it being as violent as it was. I used to think I could stomach that stuff—especially when it involved gangsters, like those in The Cotton Club or Goodfellas, because to borrow Vera’s (Diane Lane) line, “That’s what they do,”—gangsters kill gangsters. But I still have to ask myself: What’s the point?
One thing I appreciate about the Internet is I can go on YouTube and select specific songs or dances and view them. Anytime I want to call up Gregory Hines, there he is! Same with Lonnette McKee singing “Ill Wind.” Okay, I love that song, but maybe that’s not a good example; there’re a lot of violent scenes mixed into the montage.
The older I get, the more I chafe at violence, especially gratuitous. The last piece of fiction I worked on, I killed off a character. I have not written any fiction since then, so maybe that says it all.
Someone will probably make much ado of my taking pot shots at what they consider art. But there is plenty of art that has conflict, but lacks violence.
And then there’s the everyday art (everyday and miraculous at the same time!) that is the garden. And there is the art that each person makes of her or his life. Some of that art is violent, of course. I could argue that anytime we disrespect ourselves, we are committing violence against ourselves. Same with others, because we are all part of this whole realm.
The challenge for me moving forward will be those times when I just want to zone out, after work and before bed: too tired not to sleep, too wired to sleep. I could say, I’ll find an herb for that…but that is not my style.
The upshot? Violence is part of life, of course, but I already know that. I don’t need to be shown the why or the how, no matter how artfully done it is.
Junk “food” is part of our food realm as well, and I don’t partake of that. In the same way that junk “food” is devoid of nutrition, there is something harmful about visual junk: it demands of us that we “process” it and in the processing, we lay waste to (and waste) certain aspects of ourselves as well as our energy. In other words, it takes more than it gives. So like anything that sucks our energy, we really need to ask: Is it worth it?
What is it about brilliant September days that bring tragedy? This week’s shootings at the Navy Yard in Southeast D.C. are a reminder that you just never know when it’s your time. I can imagine how much pain the shooter was in, but I cannot imagine becoming so unconnected as to allow pain to drive me to harm someone else. If anything, such tragedies signal a call to all of us to become more aware of the state of our fellow beings. Maybe no kindness could have helped that man, but who knows? Kindness—here’s a goal for us: to make kindness a way of life, a way of being.