Wednesday, August 23, 2006

"Comfort Zone" Fiction

I know I have a comfort zone when it comes to movies. This seems understandable, since movie-making is primarily a visual art. Today’s cinematic techniques can lead to an unnerving degree of realism. I don’t want to see certain acts like rape or torture vividly depicted. No way, no how. That "sadistic dentist" sequence in Marathon Man is definitely not something I want to sit through again. Anything worse than that--forget it. And today’s movies have gotten far, far worse than that.

Fiction, however, is obviously a verbal art. Images are suggested, not unignorably and inalterably presented, and their impact depends on the vigor of the reader’s imagination, which must weave together and then lend sensory substance to the word markers. I have a very vigorous imagination, so I suppose I’d also squirm if horrific acts committed by human beings in a realistic setting were described in grisly detail--one of the many reasons, I suppose, I’ve become disenchanted with Stephen King. But beyond such acts so described (and just-plain-bad writing, which makes me squirm from follicle to foot), I can’t imagine what else would fall beyond my reading comfort zone. Hell, I figure if I suffered through James Joyce, I can suffer through just about anything.

It seems other readers find many things too offensive for their imaginations to tackle.

I’ve found this to be the case with books that cover issues relating to sexuality, politics, and religion--"hot-button" issues--particularly if the book’s point of view falls outside the Milquetoast mainstream. I don’t quite understand this. Again, controversial material doesn’t bother me, no matter how extreme the stance, unless truly revolting, harmful acts are described (with a perverted degree of relish) in truly revolting and largely unnecessary detail. It seems crazily hypocritical, for example, to rant against a novel that depicts flag-burning and yet allow one’s children to watch movies and tv shows and play video games in which senseless violence is central. HUH? Better to stimulate critical thought and discussion than cultivate a bloodthirsty and/or jaded nature.

Makes sense, doesn’t it?

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