Wednesday, August 30, 2006

A Human Trait

Last week, Turner Classic Movies had The Dirty Dozen on. I didn’t stay up to watch it, but it reminded me of the last time I saw The Dirty Dozen when Daughter Number 2 was probably in the first or second grade. For any of you not knowing the plot, a bunch of convicts with life sentences are given a chance for freedom if they can complete a suicide mission behind enemy lines during World War II. Toward the end of the movie, a whole mansion-full of Nazi bigwigs and their wives are having a big bash. The dirty dozen’s objective is to wipe them all out by planting explosives everywhere. So as we watched this, DN2 asked me what the dirty dozen were planning to do. I explained that the good guys, the dirty dozen, were going to kill the evil bad guys, the Nazis. “What did the Nazis do?” she asked. “They caused a huge war that lead to a lot of deaths and suffering.” “But their wives?” DN2 pursued. “What did they ever do?” “Well,” I said, “I guess that’s guilt by association,” an answer she neither understood nor was satisfied with. “But they didn’t do anything!” she insisted. Then, after seeing Charles Bronson or one of the other actors throw an explosive device into a ventilator shaft, she turned to me on the verge of tears and asked, “Why don’t they stop?” A second after that, we switched to All That on Nickelodeon.

When Daughter Number 1 was a very little girl (I’m guessing pre-kindergarten), we took her to an older kid’s birthday party. Featured as the climax of the festivities was a straw piñata in the shape of a donkey hung from the ceiling — all the kids lined up for their turn to be blindfolded and given a stick to whack it with. DN1 had never seen this before, and even I have to say the children (all of them peeping under poorly tied blindfolds) really attacked the effigy with maniacal glee. Anyone doubting we humans are descended from a lower, more bestial order of life should have seen those pink-cheeked cherubs get medieval on the poor donkey. While this went on, DN1’s hands went to her mouth and her eyes grew wide with fright. When the final, killing blow eviscerated the piñata and candy spewed everywhere from the wretched thing’s bowels, DN1 burst into tears and was inconsolable for at least ten or fifteen minutes afterward — and I didn’t blame her a bit for feeling that way.

When I was a little boy, one of my friends was given the Little Golden Book version of the gingerbread man story, which told the tale of the swift, mischievous gingerbread man who wouldn’t come to heel and accept his station in life as a pastry. At the climax of the story, the gingerbread man needed to cross a brook and made a deal with a crafty fox to give him transport. First he rode on the swimming fox’s back; but, when the back became submerged under water, the gingerbread man was forced to stand on the fox’s head. This goes on until eventually the gingerbread man is given no other recourse but to perch himself on the fox’s nose or drown — all according to the diabolical fox’s plan. Finally, when the fox opened his mouth to eat the gingerbread man, the illustrator of the book showed a freeze frame of the moment just before the fox bit down on the poor little gingerbread man. He caught the expression of horror on the gingerbread man’s face, his mouth and eyes perfect O’s of white icing, and the cunning, wicked look in the fox’s eyes, his teeth sharp and cruel. I was stunned, knowing that a split second later this sentient, playful creature, the gingerbread man, would have his life extinguished by a barbaric fox who viewed him as nothing more than a food source, a thing to eat, digest, and put out of his memory without the merest pang of conscience. He had no appreciation at all of what a wonderful, funny life the gingerbread man led. The monstrosity of the act fascinated me; I was horrified, yet held in thrall.

It’s a pity that part of growing up means inuring yourself to acts of inhumanity, either in fiction or even on the evening news. DN2, who wept for the Nazis’ wives, now has no problem playing the most violent video games. DN1 can watch your basic slasher/horror flick without it costing her a night’s sleep. And I, of course, can handle just about anything I hear or see. A great human trait we all share is really a double-edged sword: we can adapt to anything given enough time.

16 Comments:

Blogger Flood said...

You know, we just came from a long-distance trip, visiting grandparents, and our youngest son wept for 20 minutes about leaving. He kept saying, "But I don't know when we'll see them again!" Totally distraught and the rest of us repeated that we'd see them next time. "You don't know when next time is!" he'd say.

He was in a moment in which it hurt his heart so much to leave and the uncertainty of another visit broke him further. The teenagers in our family thought their four year old brother was being dramatic. He's right, though. You never know when the last time you'll see loved ones is.

I'm not sure if we take things for granted as we age or if we suppress feelings in order not to worry or despair. Either way, we could all use a little trust in our emotions sometimes.

Great post.

4:36 PM  
Blogger SzélsőFa said...

Interesting observance. It proves once again the innocence and honesty of kids. I wonder if we, adults felt and behaved the same how fast would we go insane, knowing and seeing the world around us?

1:28 AM  
Blogger mr. schprock said...

"I'm not sure if we take things for granted as we age or if we suppress feelings in order not to worry or despair. Either way, we could all use a little trust in our emotions sometimes."

"I wonder if we, adults felt and behaved the same how fast would we go insane, knowing and seeing the world around us?"

Excellent points. Certainly we need to harden ourselves to all the ghastly things we hear or read about or see on the news; if we fully appreciate the horror of genocide in one country, or the unspeakable human loss of villages wiped out by earthquakes or mudslides in another; if we comprehend with absolute clarity the plight of the victims of torture and rape, hunger, starvation and disease, powerless as we are to stop most of it, we'd all become emotional basket cases.

5:29 AM  
Blogger Kathleen said...

I'm old enough that pinatas hadn't made it into mainstream America, but I probably would have simply viewed it as just another game I suck at.

I have taken to avoiding the news because it's just all bad. If I think about it too much, I would go nuts, as put forth by szelso fa. And flood had great insight, as well.

5:36 AM  
Blogger Scott said...

My parents had a time with me once when I saw an Irish Setter get shot in a movie. They had to promise me that the dog was just fine. I posted just recently about taking my sons to see Baryard something or other. This movie is a good example of hardened adult hearts so far gone that childhood is more theory than memory.

6:30 AM  
Blogger tiff said...

I suspect that some of us, despite our imitations of being grown up, never fully emerge from the cocoon of childhood tenderness.

For that I'm grateful, because without it this world would be so harsh as to be unbearable.

An aside, I think 5-year-olds should be allowed to be judges. they have a remarkable sense of "what's fair" and what's not.

8:08 AM  
Anonymous dreadmouse said...

Agreed, Mr. Schprock. The thing that scares me the most is how I don't even notice things anymore. To accept the unfairness of the world is one thing, but to be blind to it is even worse.

8:15 AM  
Blogger Wordnerd said...

Pretty sad commentary on just how tough a shell we grow, huh? Scary.

9:04 AM  
Blogger trinamick said...

Bambi dying didn't bother me in the least. But Old Yeller? The Yearling? I was worked up for months. It just didn't seem fair that the animals died all for some stupid kids.

Now I go deer hunting.

9:33 AM  
Blogger mr. schprock said...

"I'm old enough that pinatas hadn't made it into mainstream America, but I probably would have simply viewed it as just another game I suck at."

We've had our share of piñatas at birthday parties, and one time I made the mistake of giving the kids a real baseball bat to whack it with. Most could barely swing the thing.


"This movie is a good example of hardened adult hearts so far gone that childhood is more theory than memory."

Right. What's next? A cartoon musical of the Holocaust?


"An aside, I think 5-year-olds should be allowed to be judges. they have a remarkable sense of "what's fair" and what's not."

I bet it would cut down on the number of frivolous lawsuits.


"To accept the unfairness of the world is one thing, but to be blind to it is even worse."

No one guiltier than me, brother.


"Pretty sad commentary on just how tough a shell we grow, huh? Scary."


Damn straight.


"Now I go deer hunting."

One shot.

10:05 AM  
Blogger magnetbabe said...

I am what happens when the tough shell doesn not properly develop and consequesntly am completely horrified and torn up in all of these situations (except maybe the pinata). But upon maturing I have been able to understand that compassion is what makes us gloriously human and have tried to embrace these feelings, no matter how difficult it makes life.

I used to avoid any situation that threatened to expose these raw feelings, but in the last couple of years I have been trying to look them head on. Not knowing about them does't make them nonexistent.

1:14 PM  
Blogger briliantdonkey said...

Nice post Schprock as usual. You(and your kids) make a lot of good points. I think if we didn't manage to deal with it we would go mad. Well I'm there already but the rest of you would join me.

BD

9:41 PM  
Blogger Beth said...

Wow, Schprock, that last line really had me as it is so true. My children sound so much like your own. My son cried the first time he was a homeless person on TV and now he runs over them in San Andreas. It's just terrible, isn't it?

12:28 PM  
Blogger Chloe said...

Last week's 20/20 described what the last days on Earth could be like. Of all the ways we might perish - asteroid, supervolcano - the likeliest scenarios involved dying by our own hand, either because of evil (biological warfare) or apathy (global warming). Human cruelty seems to know no end.

6:09 PM  
Blogger mcBlogger said...

I think it's kinda sad the way we become desensitized to our surroundings, especially those in war-torn countries.

9:47 AM  
Anonymous fringes said...

Wonderfully written post. I didn't come up for air until it was over, drowning in imagery. What a great by-product of having these blogs: our writing improves almost daily. Well done.

2:29 PM  

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