Monday, April 23, 2007

Viruses--of a different sort

So I was pondering why mentally ill people seem to be increasingly turning to mass murder and violence to express themselves. It doesn't seem like it has always been the case that someone without all their faculties thinks to get a gun and go into a public place and shoot as many people as possible. So why are people doing this?

Then I thought about my computer virus, and how it quietly opened and door and inserted itself everywhere in my hard drive, and the kids wondering if people can get viruses. So here's my question:

Can cultures get viruses?

I think perhaps they can. Our culture, in fact, seems to have thousands of copies of the "Selfishness" virus saved in obvious and covert places all throughout it. And it downloads related, more visible viruses into the culture: obsession with appearance, divorce, abuse, road rage, Violence, murder, etc. These are not new problems. But they seem to be increasingly self-motivated, increasingly popping up throughout our culture as behaviors that people find acceptable. Why is that?

As I thought, I switched analogies from viruses to seeds. I was thinking about Alma saying we should plant the seed in our hearts and water it and see if it's a good seed. He doesn't say all seeds are good. He says if it is a good seed, you'll know. But there are bad seeds out there, too, that we can plant and then kill or nurture. And violence as a viable alternative is a seed that has been and continues to be planted in the minds and hearts of the people. Especially the children. Even Disney movies are full of violence. I am not the only parent who doesn't allow "Power Rangers" in my home because it trains children in violence. Computer games (in all their forms) gives kids a chance to even practice violent responses to things. And they're addictive, so the adults keep on rehearsing. TV, movies, books, internet, advertisements, cartoons, etc--it's prevalent. Everywhere they turn, even very small children are taught that aggressiveness and violence are okay if you are defending yourself.

The trouble is, that's not true. But the more violence the kids (and adults) ingest, the more normal it seems. The more we see, the more we digest, the more our brains have "rehearsed" it and our souls accept and think of that first when faced with insult or injury. So we plant the seeds everywhere, and then we wonder at the fruit we get, and are shocked and appalled when people kill each other over "stupid" things, or in defense against minor, or even imagined, attacks.

It's not just violence. It's all kinds of sins. We plant the seeds. We see them begin to spring up and, instead of rooting them out, we say, "Oh I wish that plant weren't growing in my garden. But, you know, somebody might like it, and I just hate to kill it, and it's so deep-rooted, and I'm not sure where the seed came from anyway, and [insert reason we don't fight evil]."

So then my next thought was, "Clearly ingesting violent media, in all its forms, is wrong. So then what about my books? They are full of people trying to do mean, bad, evil, and, yes, sometimes violent things to each other."

But here we find another trick of Satan. He acknowledges that some people recognize that violence is wrong to practice, mentally or physically. So he convinces them that we should ignore that it exists. And this, too, is dangerous. It is a way that he gets to feed the people anything he wants, but he stops the good guys from feeding counter-intelligence, so to speak (and to add yet another metaphor).

The fact is, while we do not need to feed on violence, it DOES exist, and good people DO encounter it. Frequently. And the question is, "What do we do then?" There are righteous ways of handling violence. Just like every other evil, temptation, and sin in the world, we actually DO come in contact with it. And if we have pretended it's not real, or doesn't touch righteous people, or we must act with extreme shock and horror (and have one more peep), we haven't done anyone any favors. Instead, we have forced them into either voyeur or victim roles, neither of which is good or necessary.

So the goal is NOT to excise all violence and evil from writing. The goal, instead, is to clearly identify it as wrong (in a realistic way, not in a dogmatic way), and then show (not preach, just show) realistically how good people, righteous people, respond. How do we fight violence in our society? At what point is it okay to use violent means to defend ourselves (think Title of Liberty, here, not Feuding with the McCoys)? How do righteous people feel when they are forced to resort to defending themselves with force (like Nephi, or Joshua)? Not everyone is required to lay down and die, you know, or Satan would win right out by massing his armies and murdering all the righteous people. End of story. Really, the scriptures explain all these things to us. A writer need not muse and guess what the Lord thinks about all these questions.

To a great extent, the Way you talk about the violence is the key. It is acceptable, and even good and necessary, to show reality in literature. People have a hard enough time accepting reality. They don't need portrayals of "reality" sugar coated or modified to make it more "palatable" to those who don't want to see that the meat used to be a cow. On the other hand, you can make it pornographic by the details you use, how you employ them, and the general approach to the subject matter. Some things (many things) really are better left unsaid. And the impact and usefulness in the story is NOT diminished, although the shock value and titillation value may be diminished, by treating reality without splatting blood and guts on the faces of the readers.

So it's okay to tell a story about an ex-CIA mommy fighting terrorists who might kill her family (and lots of other people). The bad guys even can, and should, be believably bad. And the good guys can (and should) have flaws that makes it hard sometimes for them to do right things. It's probably not okay to go into graphic detail about the bad guys torture methods. Or to make bad people or violence the ideal.

People would have you believe that you cannot tell the truth, and show reality, without it being hard, gritty, negative, and awful. They want you to think that truth is hard, and "goodness" is all fluff. It IS necessary to tell the truth and be in touch with reality. And reality is often unpleasant if you are unaccustomed to it. But Richard Dutcher is wrong: it's not necessary to tell the truths in an R-rated way.

So, back to viruses: if we feed the viruses to everyone, is it too late to save the system? I think not. But, just like I could not possibly even SEE all the problems in my computer, it's not possible for us to root the viruses out of our culture simply by hard work and diligence, or by telling the truth and showing good conquering evil. We need someone who has anti-viral capabilities. We need Christ. We have to do everything in our power to make things right, and then we have to rely on Him to fill in the blanks.

But as long as we embrace our viruses, or label them as merely annoyances, our culture is lost.


Anonymous said...

Equating "reality" only with negative emotions: see the last paragraph of C.S. Lewis's Screwtape Letters, letter XXX.

morelightthanburden said...

Agreed on cultural viruses. Also thought about bad seeds, though not so deeply, ie. the excuses. I, too, agree that the violence (and many other things) just become part of the background noise and 'just don't seem that bad anymore.'

As I read the Twilight books in the last year, this is the way I felt. "Of good report? Praiseworthy? What am I really reading here? A hormonal teenager with an abnormal obsession with her vampire boyfriend who is always on the edge of wanting to eat her, who is being chased by people who are . . . well, vampires being vampires, and who can only die when . . . well . . ." You see my point?

Did it draw me in? Absolutely. But, as much as I 'enjoyed' it, it didn't feel right and appropriate. My spirit was not comfortable with it. So, where do you limit the violence? The sex? The language? When I come to these question-points now, I think of something a GA said, though I can't remember who (Packer?), "If there is any question; don't read it, don't see it, don't participate." That's my mantra now. Learned through some yucky experiences.

Watched Iron Man on recommendation. Yuck. DID NOT appreciate the village scene, the callous way it was all dealt with. Boom, oh, whoops, there goes another family. Oh, was that a child watching his family blow up? Op, too bad, there's fodder for an independent film. Sick, it's just sick. I find I have no desire to watch movies I used to think were great. Just can't stomach most of them anymore . . .

So, how do you deal with violence in your novels? I am interested to see how you will handle it.

Becca Jones said...

How do I handle violence in my novels?

Well, for one thing, I don't think in violence, so it doesn't tend to come much into play in my stories, and when it does I am usually uncomfortable and unsure of it.

Also, violence (and bad language) can be fully effective story-wise when it happens off-stage reader-wise. It tells you everything you need to know about the character and how they feel about the situation when you say, "She cursed." as when you detail the words she said.

In truth, though, I suspect this is a major reason I haven't found an agent yet, despite TONS of positive feedback from agents. My writing tends to have the moral appropriateness for 12-yr-olds but the intellectual level of intelligent adult women. Agents see no market for that--clean, fun, lightweight, good guys win, but makes your brain work, too.