Such Indifferent Sorrow
You know when you’re watching a show or a movie or reading a book and a major character dies? And it’s a very emotional scene with the music cranked up and the other characters kneeling on the ground screaming “Noooooo” up into the rainy sky as the camera spirals away from them into the heavens? And you feel like you’d gotten to know the character too, and when they leave the story you really feel their loss and you’re equally sad that they’re gone, and it becomes one of the most memorable parts of the whole story for you? And then, you know how sometimes a wee while later, they bring that character back from the dead? And the music crescendoes again, all the other characters are all emotional again, and everybody’s so happy with the miracle that’s been bestowed upon them. But in most of these cases you’re sitting there watching it, feeling kind of ripped off with the emotional investment you put into their death only to have it thrown back at you when they’re not really dead at all. And except for some rare cases, you just don’t share in the joy of the people on screen.
I used to watch Dragonball. The basic premise is that there are seven dragonballs scattered around the planet, and when they are all gathered together, the gatherer can summon a giant magical dragon who will grant the gatherer one wish. The baddies are usually gunning for something typically evil like world domination, while the good guys are usually aiming for some lame task that really shouldn’t require such overkill, like helping a retarded lost monkey find its mother, or getting some stupid local kid to win a macaroni picture contest (neither of those examples ever happened, but you get the point, the good guys always have such rubbish wishes).
At one point, a character died, and everyone was sad, until someone realised they could use the dragonballs to wish him back from the dead. So they ran around on little adventures collecting the balls, and eventually, sure enough, wished him back. The first time they did that was OK I suppose. But they began to get carried away, and before long the threat of death had been removed from the show entirely. The hunts for the titular balls themselves (a word pairing you don’t get to use very often) got dropped entirely and they would just have them. By the end, the characters were coming up with plans to defeat the bad guys like, “OK, so I’ll attack him full force, and self-destruct in his face. My sacrifice should be enough to kill him, then you guys can just bring me back to life and we can go catch that movie on Thursday”.
When the effects of something that is supposed to be definitive are that easily contravened, the effect is inevitably muted, to the point that when someone leaves, you longer blink.
And this phenomenon seems to have worked its way into real life. In real life, people aren’t killing and resurrecting each other too often, but we are leaving each others’ lives in other ways. Studies and jobs come to an end. People travel, and go to live in other countries.
Time was, going to live in another country for years was a big deal. You might keep in touch via letters, phone calls or later, emails, but they’d be pretty irregular and only ever used for a select few. For most people, that person would simply disappear, and there was no real guarantee that you’d ever see them again. Parting ways was an emotional and profound experience.
If you did meet again, it was a huge deal! The stories, the experiences that people would have after years apart could go on forever. People would have changed into someone entirely new, or have had life-changing experiences to blow you away. Being reunited was once again, a profound experience.
But the emotional depth of these experiences of parting and reuniting are dependant on the gulf of separation between them. And these days, it seems like that gulf has disappeared. Social networking sites like Facebook have become ubiquitous, and a place where people dump absolutely everything that ever happens to them for the whole world, and everyone they’ve ever met, to see. People even post when they have a ham and cheese sandwich, right down to where they’re eating it and who they’re with. It differs from person to person, but for many people, you’d be hard pressed to find an aspect of their life which wasn’t publicised all over the web.
These sites have been great for helping people stay in touch, but I feel they are starting to have the opposite effect of weakening the bonds between people. The experiences of parting and reuniting should be deep experiences for people. Time apart for the two people to focus on themselves can help to create a better experience when the two are reunited. But now, there’s no getting away from anyone, ever. Just as knowing that your dead character will be back alive again next week numbs the feeling of their death, knowing that you can still talk to someone a day after they’ve gone lessens the impact of their leaving. And when reunited, it can feel much more shallow.
“So it’s been ages, how have you been?”
“Wow, where to start! Well, I went to Spain -“
“Yeah, I know. I saw the pictures. Remember, I ‘liked’ that one? Looked great. Go anywhere else?”
“Oh. Well, yeah actually, I also went to Greece”
“Yeah, saw those pics too, now you mention it. You went with Julie right? Oh, and congratulations on the marriage by the way!”
“Oh yeah. Thanks. Yeah, we got married”
“Cool. … What else?”
“Um… well that’s pretty much it, really. Oh, I saw a movie last week. Wasn’t very good”
“Right. Well hey, it’s been cool catching up, but I’ve got plans for dinner, so…”
I can’t help but feel that a lack of communication through these sites is actually better for human relationships in the long run. I’m not saying we should ignore each other or stop talking to each other. But to not put every aspect of our lives up there might be a good idea. Maybe we can try and keep even just a little bit of mystery about ourselves to keep being human interesting.