catapult magazine

catapult magazine

Vol 6, Num 16 :: 2007.09.07 — 2007.09.21


None so deaf


It was Lisette in Moliere’s play Love’s the Best Doctor who uttered, “It’s true enough, there are none so deaf as those who don’t want to hear.” In our world of telling stories from our commercial advertising to our movies to our music and beyond, there is much that is conveyed and interpreted. Storytelling permeates every fabric and fiber of our lives. Our banter resonates in cubicles, via text, over a meal, through a song, in a book. The voice of our suffering and our joy is captured in our art. Yet as I ponder the quality and quantity of such, I can’t help but notice our inability and unwillingness to reflect. Certainly there is great joy and refreshment in escape. It has its place, no doubt. Yet, it should not be given ultimate and principal establishment. Such was so aptly noted by the great Edward R. Murrow in his insightful speech on October 15, 1958 to the RTNDA Convention:

Our history will be what we make it. And if there are any historians…they will there find recorded in black and white, or color, evidence of decadence, escapism and insulation from the realities of the world in which we live…I am frightened by the imbalance, the constant striving to reach the largest possible audience for everything…I would like television to produce some itching pills rather than this endless outpouring of tranquilizers. It can be done…Let us not shoot the wrong piano player…the media of mass communications in a given country reflect the political, economic, and social climate in which they flourish…We are currently wealthy, fat, comfortable and complacent. We have currently a built-in allergy to unpleasant or disturbing information…This instrument [television] can teach, it can illuminate; yes, and it can even inspire. But it can do so only to the extent that humans are determined to use it to those ends. Otherwise it is merely wires and lights in a box. There is a great and perhaps decisive battle to be fought against ignorance, intolerance and indifference.

Our stories are vast and vary in their subject matter. It is often personal preference and mood that dictates what we consume. In all fairness it’s not always about unwillingness but merely style. But there are moments where it ceases to be such and it subtly and furtively permeates our mind and breeds complacency. With such ubiquity of storytelling in our media-affluent culture, I fear that we are inclined to be one of those who are, as Lisette noted, “none so deaf as those who don’t want to hear.”


When I use the term escapism, I believe it’s important to clarify the tone that is intended. To escape can obviously be negative or positive. As a positive, I simply mean that there are moments when the inundation of life’s issues leaves us empty and lethargic and we need a break, an escape. To engage a story that’s external to our experience or that perhaps gives voice to our experience allows us some glimmer of hope or rejuvenation. As a negative, I mean that to experience life via escape without engaging in some element of reflection is to curtail an innate and necessary process of humanity, to think. Now I’m not trying to be the one who determines what appropriate and fitting thought is, but I am trying to do an internal audit of myself, the culture I inhabit, and beyond. In working with college and university students, I’ve found a unique reality at play. As I engage high school students at the level of personal belief and value, I often get a blank stare. It’s really just an inability to process their experiences in such a way as to express them with meaningful thought. It’s not that they’re unintelligent, it’s merely that they’re currently unable; they lack the skill. As I engage students of higher education I find that they are ultimately, beyond whatever subject or vocational aspirations they may have, developing these skills and mastering them. This is one of the great joys and struggles in working with such a population, for they grow at different rates and speeds. One must be patient and prod just enough to let them think, not think for them. Much of this exploration in my estimation takes place in the comic books, graphic novels, music downloads, movies, books, etc. It’s in the escape that they brush up against their meandering beliefs and values. Yet in the escape there is as much potential to wander aimlessly as a ship without port as there is to dock, unload, and continue.   


Hopefully, however mundane our cultural practices might be, we are engaging in reflection. It isn’t always intentional but it’s certainly innate and natural. Our thoughts  bubble after we consume and in the coffee-house after the movie or concert we inevitably turn to personal values, like and dislikes, and the why. One point of note that I feel is very important is balance, the emphasis here, being on balance as an art not a science. I know individuals—perhaps you do as well—who are a bit stiff in social settings because they are so analytical and elitist. There doesn’t seem to be an ability to enjoy the laughable moments or read between the lines. This literalism can certainly be a thorn in our reflective abilities. Yet there are those who also embody nothing but jest and have little ability to think seriously. We’ll call them Jackass disciples. However fun they might be, these folks often fail to engage the human struggle beyond fart jokes and dares. So where’s the balance? If I had to choose I’d say watch John Cusack and Stephen Frears’ take on Nick Hornby’s book High Fidelity, a fine balance of elitism and simple but sufficient philosophical gleanings, but I digress.


Why! Why reflect? I get this a lot from students. I don’t want to. Fair enough. I can’t force the issue here any more than I do there. Yet, I cry out not because I’m a self-righteous know-it-all but because I suffered through many years of apathy, necessarily but with some regret. When I did realize what was going on, I felt as though I’d been left out and I wanted desperately to catch up. I just want to prevent students from the cultural tendency that we seem to be breeding, intentional lack of thought. I’m not being literal—surely having and maintaining no thought is impossible, but you get the picture. The interesting thing about the word ‘transformation’ is that is the implication of change is buried within its semantics—the idea that we aren’t meant to remain the same, we need growth. It is a genuine need as though to engage in mental inactivity is contrary to our design or makeup. There can never truly be a disengagement from emotional experience but we most certainly make our best efforts. We often bring the emotion to trial as though to feel what we feel should not be so. We struggle in chaotic limbo. We must rid these notions of Kantian influence from our mind that to desire good for ourselves is somehow selfish as C.S. Lewis so aptly noted. I must suggest that it is supremely a crisis of the self and not the emotion itself.

Regardless of what we consume culturally—whether it be comedy sitcom, romance or spy novel, documentary film, punk music or graphic novel—there is a competitive duality at play. In our escape, we can find the solace and rest we need but become intentionally comatose. In our reflection, we can be overbearing or buffoonish. In our ability to grow, to transform, we can get caught between the pride of self-sufficiency and emotional instability and semantic obliviousness.

Storytelling is a great gift. It is one of the great spices of life. It has the potential for great change, to motivate one to reflection, to invigorate, to inspire social change and revolution. Yet it also has an ugly cousin. All of life demands maintenance. Our intellect is no different. I hope that the stories we engage this week in the pulp pages of our newspapers, the musty and sticky-floored theatres, the AM talk radio, the churning iPod, the variegated comic, will all fulfill some element of meaningful escape unto reflection and transformation. Ah, the power of the story lies also in the storyteller. May you find both.

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