CNP and I went to see Werner Herzog’s latest, My son, my son, what have ye done? (great film), and right in the middle of it I started thinking about something that I’ve been meaning to think through for a while now. The people in the film were all deeply dysfunctional, in a way that is so systemic, so ingrained, they are so blind to it, that I had this sense of hopelessness and superiority that came as a bit of a surprise.
Or rather, let’s do this from another angle. I grew up in Croatia in the 1990s, in a very mixed-income area. Most of my friends’ parents worked in manual jobs. I don’t know that this was actually the majority of the residents, but it was definitely the majority of the parents who had kids of my age; the two need not correlate, not at all. There was a war going on during that time. My family was exceptionally poor. There were drugs, and domestic violence, and people had guns at home, neighbours were found overdosed (well, one), there was apparently a rapist operating in the nearby park… These were the facts of life.
In case you haven’t noticed, a very large part of (non-British) art, from literature to film, is interested in extreme situations: poverty, war, rape, drugs, prostitution. Young adult fiction in particular revels in it – domestic abuse, children running away from home, abortion, heroin. And I’ve been thinking about my teenagehood, recently, and really wondering about the extent to which my own, or our own, perception of our reality was massively skewed by the fact that everything happening to us was stuff from art. I mean, all that art was validating our reality, the level of correspondence was really very high and, thinking back on it, it strikes me as really interesting that this was the case. I don’t know if this is a priori ‘good’ or ‘bad’, but it definitely sheltered us from feeling particularly deprived, or unusual. I certainly felt that everything that was happening was as per plans.
To a large extent, this is still the case for me – I think. So, when it happened that I was watching a film, such as My son, my son…, and got this eerie feeling of those people being beyond rescue, suddenly it struck me that there must be entire families of people who perceive a number of fictional stories as essentially socio-economic tragedies. Where I saw life at its fullest, or most real, I suspect a lot of people must see… how to put it… deviance from a healthy norm. And if they are at all prone to the kind of sentiment I was riding during the Herzog film, then it must seem to them:
a) that it is only normal that they are of another world, a more genteel one, much more connected to those who write, than those who are written about;
b) that those who are written about are a little bit like animals in the zoo; interesting, but to be observed, rather than conversed with; and
c) that there is nothing to be done, and thank God for our luck.
I would have forgotten this thought, until I read Chris’s:
I think it is so hard to reliably perceive how another person views reality.
Ed Said in Orientalism draws a spectrum from croatia to Britain. In his criticism the british map emotional volatility onto geography from the slavic passions through such distinctions as south and north germany gradually becoming calmer to the detached british observational perspecitive, which was used to justify non-involvement in the Bosnian-Yugoslav conflict.
I haven’t seen my son yet. As for the rest of the elements of social dysfunction we grow up with that let us identify with the hopeless, or at least comprehend their tragic view might be humanely coherent; have you walked down Smack street lately (smith street collingwood) it is all there.
the war rages on, between rich and poor, men and women, black and white, fat and skinny.