Tuesday, August 28

why don't the newscasters cry?

emotions can be utterly unruly things.

where do they come from? what can we do about them? what is the point of them? it seems as if none of us really understand these things, but we tell ourselves stories about out emotions--paint small pictures of the things that make us happy or sad or curious or angry. and we attempt to pin down at least a few causes. explain exactly how these crazy things move us. experiment with possible remedies. muddle through the best we can.

haven't they done studies on this? emotions and causality? maybe it's too touchy and amorphous to study. too fickle. too complicated. too infinitely individual. we all feel so uniquely. but there's commonality in there, somewhere, we think. something overarchingly human stretched out between every person.
maybe. who knows?

there's a Jack Johnson song called "The News" and it often comes to mind when I think about the way real tragedy feels so distant, when narrative tragedy pricks so much nearer. the lyrics host a handful of hyperboles, and on paper they lack the crooning gentleness of the singer's voice... but still.
A billion people died on the news tonight
But not so many cried at the terrible sight
Well mama said
It’s just make believe
You can’t believe everything you see
So baby close your eyes to the lullabies
On the news tonight
Who’s the one to decide that it would be alright
To put the music behind the news tonight
Well mama said
You can’t believe everything you hear
The diagetic world is so unclear
So baby close your ears
On the news tonight
On the news tonight
The unobtrusive tones on the news tonight
And mama said
Why don’t the newscasters cry when they read about people who die
At least they could be decent enough to put just a tear in their eyes
Mama said
It’s just make believe
You cant believe everything you see
So baby close your eyes to the lullabies
On the news tonight
I had to look up the word 'diagetic' (also 'diegetic')--it's from the Greek word for narrative. a style of narrative where things are told to you through a narrator... not simply shown as they happen. does this make a difference? what did Jack Johnson mean here? the world as it is told to us can't every be truly clear. the films and veils of a hundred varying perspectives get in the way of any pure recount. there is always an angle. there is always a slant. objectivity is a myth.
so I have a theory. if there are too many layered perspectives (he said, she said, they said, this happened) between us and the story, perhaps it will hamper our emotional response and/or provoke a lesser empathetic instinct. the style of the narrative matters.

the opposite of diegesis is mimesis. the imitation of reality, not simply its retelling. are mimetic imitations--stories presented to us without narrators, without filters--are those more likely to bring out tears? are they more real? if everything is make-believe and every version of events a kind of story, then how do we trace or mark or judge the kinds of stories, and which are more important?
these photos here are of the sculpted replicas of shoes worn by murdered Jews. I walked slowly past them our first full day in Hungary, trying to stretch my imagination far enough back and far enough out... far enough to include what it might have been like to stand on the banks of that lovely river, the Duna, and know you were going to die for confusing reasons related to your heritage and your faith.

I couldn't do it. my attempts unearthed a vague poignance, but of course nothing very close to a full understanding.
were there too many layers? Dr. Jones was the one who related the history and the story of the sculpture to us. the sculptors themselves too harp upon a certain story, and even that story must have been told to them by somebody. or a dozen somebodies. where do we get the original story? who does it belong to? is there anyone's voice left for it to be told in?

I proofread the memoir of a Holocaust survivor last month, called Transcending Darkness. reading over the text and noticing the ways it struck and disturbed and tugged at me is what spurred this whole narrative-style-makes-a-difference theory. which styles are best, for which purposes? which stories need telling, and why? and presuming we ever make sense of those questions, then which kinds of emotions are most worthwhile, anyway? maybe we needn't judge. maybe the vague, disconnected feelings that settle in response to cold, diegetic news reports and the wrenching, indescribable ones that bloom out of unfiltered, mimetic storybook experience can both have their place. the deeper, powerful emotions may not mean much without the thin, vague ones behind them.

news and history and story are all different things. we consume them differently and we think about them differently. but why? for some reason each comes with its own set of genre conventions and rules and methods. we respond to these layered modes of narrative differently. but is that the way it should be?


Chris said...


It goes on about zombies for a bit, then gets to the interesting stuff.

That's a good point though, about news not being very good at making you empathise because it's all just.. well, either supposed objective tones or sensationalist yelling. I guess that's what makes good journalism. Finding the balance between reporting the facts and making you feel them.

This relates to all my gripes about telling instead of showing, and allegory and stuff, which is all 'this is what this means and this character can just stand there holding a plaque that says "I mean this"' rather than us actually experiencing that character as a real person.

Nicola Swann said...

I have to supress so much emotion when writing news about recently announced printers and companies suing each other. It's a good thing I'm dead inside.

P.S You ARE a genius of thought :D

amelia c said...

that podcast is way interesting. and crazy relevant, in some ways. stories make us human....

there are a million ways of telling stories. maybe some we haven't even discovered yet. everyone makes their own judgements, I guess, about what stories are better or more meaningful...

Janeheiress said...

I love this post. So much that I don't want to comment for fear of sounding shallow. We should talk about it in person ;)

amelia c said...

shallow emotions still count as emotions, right? or do they? who says? hmmm. anyways, thanks! I'm sure talking in person won't be too tricky, since you live just down the road. :)