Friday, April 17, 2015

We Need to Talk

Over the past several years, police procedural TV dramas have made sport to the point of cliche about situations where officers on foot or car patrol are called to intervene in cases of domestic violence.  With a mounting inevitability, one or more of the police come away with bandages and possible scars to show for their efforts.  Something within the high-pitched fury of domestic violence seems to unite the domestics against the very team sent in to ease the situation.

Suspecting this trope might be the invention of non-violent writers, tossing ideas about in the writer's room, you've begun to look for well-founded refutations of the dynamic.  You've even tried that great leveling device known as Snopes.com, famous for its relentless debunking of urban myth.

An admitted sucker for the constructs taken for absolute fact that find their way to Snopes.com and other urban myth debunking sites, you've found no statement disagreeing with the potential risk to intervening police officers who'd been called to respond to a domestic violence situation.

Domestic violence, which is to say any domestic conflict that turns to the use of force, is an ongoing condition, triggered by a broad range of social, political, and gender conflicts.  As a phenomenon, it is awful.  It also represents some of the basic dynamics in story, including the progression from conversation to argument to physical engagement.  

Watching the set-ups for such events in televised drama, one cannot always predict where it will spring from or, if the writing staff is truly on its toes, how it will be presented in counterpoint.  By this, you mean a circumstance where the domestic violence in an upper class family might become over time physical enough to send a wife or child to seek the services of cosmetic plastic surgery while, in stark contrast, the domestic violence in a working class family might seem mild in its extreme of verbal taunting rather than physicality.

You're venturing the opinion that a significant dynamic is domestic violence is the frustration that comes from not having one's opinion or point of view respected and acknowledged.  Also a potential cause of the frustration and subsequent descent into acting-out rage is the ironic condition inherent in most story of communication gone wrong.

Thanks to the novels of Cormack McCarthy and in particular the motion picture version of his novel, No Country for Old Men, lesser works have featured to the point of cliche the drug deal gone wrong.  You read this as an extension of the domestic violence trope.  Because of misunderstandings, betrayals, and unforeseen interventions, things go wrong.

Story, itself, begins when something goes wrong, when stasis is interrupted.  Someone decides to step in, change the game plan, then make off with "the" money and/or "the" swag, which may be some illegal substance or stolen property.  "The" money represents the fives and tens and twenties from the working class poor, who are addicted to some substance they are willing to pay for, making them, in Marxist critical theory, victims of at least one level of exploitation.

Given your own upbringing and experiences, you are a good candidate for identifying with the women or children victims of domestic violence.  No surprise whatsoever that you identified so strongly with the five-year-old narrator of Emma Donogue's impressive novel, Room, in which domestic violence is exacerbated to the point of a young woman  and her five-year-old son are held captive, the woman as a sex slave, the narrator as the son of the captor..

Although violence of a physical nature is not a part of your active vocabulary, noir fiction and its close cousin, hardboiled fiction, are, mixed with measures of irony and the humor of missed connections.  Domestic violence is an aspect of much of Raymond Carver's short stories and although there are no blackened eyes or the need to wear sunglasses to cover bruises, John Cheever's short fiction seems to ripple with the subterranean current of domestic violence.

Thus, within a few paragraphs, you've gone from police, stepping in on an all-out husband-wife or lover-lover or parent-child squabble to an incident where the intervening cops, who wish to restore some form of protocol if not logic or sense, now become at risk from the very individuals they'd thought to save from tearing one another apart.

You see it bubbling just below the surface when individuals tell one another, "We need to talk." You watch closely to see where it will go.  We all of us have the potential for domestic violence; it is no comfort for many of us, you included, to congratulate ourself that we have not acted out, stepped over certain boundaries we consider reprehensible.  You have slammed enough doors in your time, thrown at least one typewriter and any number of safety razors out various windows, said, "Well if that's the way you feel, fuck you," enough times to be aware of the inner animal of rage as it turns over within you and stretches its legs.

You've created an array of language-oriented responses to insulate these feelings, suggesting the possibility of you becoming civilized.  But the out-of-work characters, milling about within you, are looking for starring roles.  Sometimes you watch them and wonder what would happen to you if they got cast to be the Mr. Hyde to your Dr. Jekyll.

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