by Joyce Marcel
American Reporter Correspondent
October 16, 2003
AMERICA'S DEATH WISH
DUMMERSTON, Vt. -- So, let's see what's on television tonight? How many murders? How many rapes? How many autopsies will I see?
I can watch a woman being blown up by her fireman husband on "Cold Files." Or a plastic surgeon and two contact-lens makers, shot at point blank range, lying in pools of their own blood on "Law & Order: Criminal Intent." Or a complete autopsy on HBO. Or a rape victim hanging on to life after being beaten on "CSI Miami."
On "Navy NCIS" there is blood and guts galore: a gang war in boats. There is a psychiatrist specializing in sex offenders who is found beaten on "Law & Order: Special Victims Unit." At the same time, I can watch the detectives of "NYPD Blue" investigate a man's beating at the hands of hired thugs.
I love hour-long dramas on television, but it is getting harder and harder to avoid the blood. I used to enjoy watching "Judging Amy" on Tuesday nights because of the dynamic mother-daughter interplay between Amy Brenneman and Tyne Daly. But last week when I tuned in, I saw a doctor treat a seriously injured child and the drunken driver who had just wiped out her family.
Between 9/11, Afghanistan, Iraq and the West Bank, there's more than enough death, pain and suffering in the world to go around. Yet America has developed an overwhelmingly detailed, brilliantly marketed and deeply absorbed popular culture and devoted the majority of it to death and dismemberment. It has become disgusting with its vivid scenes of dead and dismembered bodies.
I have to wonder why.
Are we trying to turn the violence that surrounds us into art? Throughout history, artists have been drawn to the unspeakable. Goya painted the horrors of war and poverty in his time, but his paintings were not seen as entertainment. When Picasso painted "Guernica," he painted the emotions and brutality of war, not its realistic gore.
Is it because we are afraid of death?
Certainly, we have tried to eliminate death from our culture. We have removed the blood and butchering from our food supply. People don't die at home, as they used to. There is no more "cooling board" in the parlor, where children can stare at the body and watch the grownups mourn. Even if people do manage to die in their own beds, their bodies are quickly whisked away. They are beautified, placed in satin-lined coffins, and buried quickly or burned. Our culture glorifies the young and banishes the old, who remind us that our time on earth is limited. It eliminates reminders of death, such as pictures of people jumping from the World Trade Center on 9/11. Or pictures of the towers themselves.
Are we trying to desensitize ourselves to death? Take our death and mayhem in controlled doses? In a place where we know the good guys will win by the end of the hour? Compare that to Iraq, for example, where the good guys don't seem to be winning, and we're not even sure who the bad guys are.
If that is true, it seems a little sick that our escape from death and mayhem and violence and horror is watching death and mayhem and violence and horror, interspersed with commercials for products that make our hair shiny.
Or are we so desensitized to life that only the most gruesome deaths can make us feel again?
Or do we feel so worthless as citizens of a once-great nation that the only people we can feel superior to are murderers and their victims on television?
Maybe Americans feel guilty, not because of the devastation we've caused in the world, but because we have slaughtered our beloved democracy at home.
Think about it. We expect nothing but corruption from our elected officials. We let Pres. George W. Bush lie and cheat and whip us into a frenzy of false patriotism so he could attack and conquer Iraq. We elected Arnold Schwartzenegger governor of California.
Most of us don't vote. We don't read newspapers. We don't discuss policy. We sneer about our government without ever learning how it works. We do not travel, so we are blind to the value of other cultures. We are intellectually lazy to the point where we are close to being intellectually dead.
We have squandered our precious freedom, wasted it on lies, debt, the bottom line, easy money and easier gratification. We allow children to have handguns. We glory in the invented personalities of celebrities and the cheap sex of pornography. We eat Twinkies and pizzas and fried hamburgers and have become the fattest nation the world has ever seen. We pay athletes millions of dollars to exercise for us.
Perhaps America is ashamed of itself. Perhaps we are watching, in scathing detail, an entire country's crisis of conscience. Perhaps we have developed a death wish. Perhaps democracy is too heavy a burden to carry and we wish it were gone. Perhaps, then, we believe we deserve punishment for being so weak.
There are more than enough madmen in the world willing, eager and able to punish us and help us die. If we want to live, we had better stop watching death on television and start working to end it in the real world.
Joyce Marcel is a free-lance journalist who writes about culture, politics, economics and travel.