Sunday, November 23, 2014

Duncan Trussel on Schadenfreude and Visceral Reaction to Suffering

Duncan Trussel is a regular on The Joe Rogan Experience podcast. He had an interesting rant about a part of the human condition (which called to mind Lester Bangs' reaction to the shooting of Andy Warhol).
It's like that South Park where the kids try to get their parents to stop watching what they call "murder porn" which is like Forensic Files and stuff where you lay in bed -- nobody's watching Forensic Files because they're like, "I really wanna gather more information about this case to see if I can solve it." Nobody's watching Nancy Grace because they're like, "I'm gonna help find this missing child." People are watching these shows because they're getting off in a deep, visceral way on other people's suffering. 
Whenever I watch Forensic Files, there's this kind of terrible pleasure that comes from realizing that this world is like that and I'm safe in this nice hotel. You watch it and you get this kind of like, WOW that's fucking crazy. For whatever reason, human beings, in the deepest part of themselves --  if you're really honest with yourself -- when you watch some awful thing on the news... It's not like your heart explodes initially with sweet compassion, you're like, "What The FUCK.. WOW, look at that explosion, that's intense!" But it's not like you're weeping, it's not like tears are falling out of your eyes. You're sort of in awe in a weirdly excited way about shit blowing up. 
This is like a bell-curve. When someone close to you is suffering. If you see an animal that's sick or something awful happened close around you, you'd be like "Fuck, that's awful," and try to help.  You wouldn't be like, "This is weird and kinda cool." But somehow this bell-curve happens, where if the very same thing is happening outside of a certain proximity to where you're at, outside your neighborhood or in another country, it goes from being a mourning horror to a weird kind of creepy enjoyment. And that's what the news is making money on. Because if people felt horrible when they watched the news, nobody would watch. They wouldn't make any money. People like to sit and stare into the apocalypse because it's entertaining.... 
Trussel goes on to discuss how the packaging of tragedy in news media is specifically designed to fit within a window of emotional tolerability.
People don't want to watch stuff that makes them sad. Like the humane society commercial, with that "arms of the angel" song, people can barely watch that because it's so sad. But somehow the anesthetized war reporting, or the foamed-down aerial shots of a fucking drone strike with that weird flash of smoke. You see shapes -- those are trucks with people with them -- but you don't see that smoldering, twitching human corps or the guy limping away with his femur jutting out and one of his eyeballs out while he's thinking about his wife and whether or not he's ever gonna see her again. All you see is like [laser sounds] -- GONE. 
When they show the drone strikes, imagine if they did start playing Sarah McLachlan! They don't want people to be like, "Hey this is terrible, let's stop that!" When I kill a bug in my house, there's more of a sadness... I feel more intense about that than when they show humans being exploded because they do it in such a quick, packaged, sweet way that we're all numbed out to it. We're all numbed out to the fact that those fucking explosions that are evaporating people are 100% being funded by the money that is siphoned off from us anytime we buy a latte or whenever we sell someone our life energy. [That money is] being converted by some invisible power into some human evaporating devices. That doesn't occur to us at all. 
Duncan goes on to agree with Joe Rogan that some of our military operations truly are important measures in defense of freedom. (And his tone reflects the frustration of emotional-ethical dialectics.) You can listen to the full podcast episode at The Joe Rogan Experience.

Thursday, October 02, 2014

Check out Molly Lambert's piece on David Fincher

One of my editors frequently complains about how modern critics are too predictable in their panning of anything that expresses overt sentimentality. I picked up a little nugget in this Molly Lambert piece on Grantland about David Fincher.

Films like Se7en and Zodiac root around in the ugliest parts of the human psyche, interrogating the audience’s desire to see terrible things happen and taking very different routes to their dark punch-line endings. He also weathers the same criticisms as Kubrick and Hitchcock: cold, unemotional, overly cynical. But Fincher, like Kubrick and Hitchcock, is just unsentimental. He is interested in emotions, but real, raw ones that people would rather conceal, which come out via micro-slips.

Lambert more or less implies that "sentimental" is a pejorative, and insinuates that classically sensationalized emotions (i.e. love) are less authentic. This taste preference for exploration of things like fear and loathing (so to speak) -- which I happen to share -- oughtn't be rooted in some righteous sense that these emotions are more real than sentimental ones, right? It's simply an aesthetic preference, probably rooted in the fact that they have less coverage in art and entertainment.


Friday, May 30, 2014

The Squirrel Bomb (For Posterity)

Approximate location.
In 2002 -- this is now twelve years ago (!?) -- I had thrown at me what I affectionately refer to as a "Squirrel Bomb". 

I was walking past a garbage receptacle on the busy patio of my liberal-arts college, when some unknown scholar stopped in his tracks ahead of me, he turned to face me. I slowed my gait as his focus in my direction seemed fairly intentional. He pulled back his right arm which held a mostly-full water bottle as if to telegraph a pass in my direction. Is he about to throw a heavy water-bottle at me? Is this one of those college things? Was I about to be recruited by some esoteric fraternal guild?

Well actually, he pitched a fastball at the garbage receptacle which was located a mere arm's length to my right. The disposable bottle--full of momentum-generating H2O--slammed against the hollow, squared cylinder with thunderous resound. As no fewer than nine (9) squirrels jettisoned out on all sides and in all directions, I reflexively shrieked like a little girl. 

I had never up to that moment had ANY squirrels nearly that close to me, and now I had a nearly double-digit flock (or whatever the hell their dumb group is called) moving quickly around me in in wildly unpredictable trajectories. I continued to shriek like some 6 year old who just watched her favorite doll be decapitated by wolves, and after the shock wore off, I giggled foolishly at the unprecedented spectacle of having been made into some weird Buster Keaton sight-gag.