Monday, January 16, 2006

# 100 THE DEAD-NARRATOR EFFECT

I’m concerned about the removal of so much of the play equipment now considered ‘unsafe’ from playgrounds. I worry that by doing this we might be creating a generation who will take foolhardy risks later in life having missed the opportunity as children to learn their own physical limitations. And in a similar manner, a new genre in Literature, surprisingly enough, has me thinking along the same lines. It is not easy to explain but let me give it a try.

Now the distinctive thing about humans is that we understand our mortal limitations, and because of this we seek mastery over fate through spirituality. And coupled with that we exercise caution. But now, it seems to me, like the stripping of playgrounds, we are stripping away the current generations’ personal quest for that understanding. We are handing them a new template that frees them from cautionary wisdom and the puzzling questions of purpose, values, and redemption.

And how are we doing it? With a new genre in movies and books. The genre of the dead narrator. The narrator that has died and is now in a place of all-seeing, all-knowing, all-wisdom, looking down from some perch enthralled and vastly entertained by what is going on in the living world.

It is a genre that has gained popularity at an overwhelming rate particularly with teens and adolescents. And what’s the harm in it? Well it seems to me, it could foster a generation of foolhardy risk-takers. A generation, like the kids in an ultra-safe playground, that no longer recognize their limitations. And the equal harm it does, is erase from one’s consciousness any need for reflective thinking and fostering of a spiritual concept. Despite all that, one might still say, ‘What’s the harm? This is just another take on the after-life notions of most religions.’

And in that I am forced to agree except for one critical thing. Within the dead-narrator concept, there is no Supreme Being (or if there is he is also dead) and thus no moral obligation for anyone to be the best they can be. “Desperate Housewives” is a prime example and there is certainly no moral obligations evident in that story. And these are tales that adapt a first-person narrator approach posturing as non-fictional autobio accounts of real-life drama.

But getting back to the greater reality of things, you and I understand full well that this whole dead-narrator business is nothing more than a creative writer’s imagination. But when I talk to young people who watch these shows, I have found to my amazement that they actually perceive life and death to be just that. And the addictive quality of the dead-narrator story is that it gives young people no reason to fear injury or their demise. In the event of a disaster all one has to do is grab their notions and mental assessments (no backpack required) and fly the unhappy scene. Vacate that physical vessel promptly before any pain strikes. Then they comfortably hover near the ceiling fan, still hanging out with friends but in a different dimension, and do a chuckling commentary on what a cryin’ shame it is that the battered body below on the stretcher will not be skiing on the weekend.

So when we present youth with this over-simplified interpretation of life and death, could such a concept lead to foolhardy recklessness? Many of us are of the opinion that violence on TV deadens sensitivity. But is this even more dangerous? In that, rather than desensitizing us to the woes of others it crushes our primeval instincts to preserve our own existence at all costs? When something is over-simplified there is nothing to contemplate. No need to contemplate caution. No need to contemplate limitations.

Young people tend to be reckless by their very nature. And the reckless ones lead lifestyles that ignore cautions that are so important. The hazards of drinking and driving and speeding and drugs. The danger of radical sports. Protection from aids. And even lesser concerns such as protection from disease through hand-washing and safe food preparation. Do we need to add more tonic to this kind of reckless mix?

But I can see why this new genre is so popular. It does mimic religion but in a far less demanding way. This is a belief that dispels so many fears without moral obligation. And it layers perceptions until they become solid beliefs that form safety barriers – the safest being a complete misunderstanding of our limitations. Is it a good thing for us to hide real and present dangers behind this façade?

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