In grim times, evil becomes entertainment

ROSEMARY MCLEOD
Last updated 08:40 26/07/2012

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Rosemary McLeod

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OPINION: If the weather's bleak, at least there are a few straggly violets. You get it while you can.

This has been a season of numb fingers and gloomy box-watching. No sooner was I done with The Wire than the Danish version of The Killing gripped me in its gloomy maw; no sooner was that over than Spiral, a French crime series, kept me thumb- sucking once more at the awfulness of my fellow human beings.

I've had no time for Disneyish mush in the winter chill, what with the cats prowling for any living creature to set claw or paw on their patch. And why would you feel good about the world anyway? National is pushing through asset sales nobody wants. Protesters tell us 25 per cent of voters didn't show at the last election, possibly because they didn't feel they'd make any difference. Paula Bennett is slated for talking some sense on welfare reform, and the Greens are uppity in a maddeningly smug 7th- former kind of way. I don't much like any of them.

Maori want water rights, and whatever other rights are going. They have a point, though it seems sometimes as if half of us are endlessly after something they haven't got, while the rest of us put up with what we have, and hope we can cling to it.

Black is our clothing colour, and bleak is the entertainment we offer ourselves. TV crime programmes get ever more forensic, stopping just short of vivisection, which is bound to be the next viewing barrier to cross. People protest about the maltreatment of animals; they get excited over foie gras geese; but no-one runs a guerilla war on child abuse.

Syria's a cot case. So is Afghanistan, Somalia, Iran, Italy and Spain and so was Iceland last I heard. The Olympics endlessly nearly happen, while fear of a terrorist attack in London neatly balances out the prospect of entertainment in which, just for a change, nobody has to get dismembered.

It's time, in short, to lay in stocks of cheery, bright underwear, and Belgian chocolate.

Shocked yet again by a mass killing in America, I'm chastened by my own dark viewing habits, leavened only by Westerns, those modern fables of good and evil that make everything end up all right. I see that Superman and Batman, comic heroes of my childhood who were once the good guys, have become sinister, brooding and morally ambivalent in comic worlds pictured as almost post-apocalyptic.

William Blake said of Milton, the great Puritan author of Paradise Lost, that he was, 'A true poet, and of the devil's party without knowing it.' He said this because it's the devil that comes across as the liveliest character in the great poetic work on mankind's fall from grace, just as villains are often the most interesting characters in drama.

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The more puzzling and alarming the world seems, the more we resort to evil as entertainment, as if understanding it could solve the puzzle of why we can't all be happy.

On the cable TV channels America is masticating every detail of the Colorado shootings, where a young gunman calling himself the name of a villain in Batman seemed to think he was delivering a comic book story, or movie scenario, for real. This was no piece of performance art, but in a small and vicious way it was a commentary on modern popular art forms. Audiences the world over turn out in droves, as the victims of this horror did, to watch films in which madmen run rampant, and people die needlessly. Isn't that a bit weird when you think about it?

The true point of this type of entertainment, surely, is catharsis, a purging of our fear of the wildness in our own nature, in the safety of a movie theatre where we're not really under threat.

But in Syria, Afghanistan, and so many places, people really live that kind of drama, detailed and described in what we call news, safe in our relatively stable world. Mass killers in our separate universe break through to tell us nowhere is safe, and nobody can be counted on to be what they seem. That's a message as bleak as you can get, as Norway observes the first anniversary of its own mass killing from hell. I can feel a blockbuster coming on.

- © Fairfax NZ News

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