Thursday, January 29, 2015

Apathy in the Age of Apple

Let me in on a secret: I watch a lot of pirated videos. I mean, I watch streaming videos on the Internet, on websites that don’t ask me to pay, so I guess that’s watching pirated videos. Siphoning creative material, like music, pictures and films, off the Internet without having to pay a dime is so common these days that the lines between legal and illegal downloads are blurred. Is Youtubing equal to piracy? I mean, there are DVD rips there that come from DVDs meant to be bought, so maybe it is.

Anyways, I’m not here to talk about piracy. To be honest, I believe that music and videos up for sale are so overpriced, it completely makes sense people don’t want to pay. I’m here to talk about all the things that have become available to us thanks to the Internet. Nothing is forbidden anymore. You don’t have to go through an elaborate game of hide-and-seek to procure a video meant strictly for adults or be in the loop to get demos of underground bands. Celebrities have their phones hacked everyday and most people have access to inappropriate (read nude) pictures of them. I mean, come on! Is Game of Thrones really appropriate viewing for a sixteen-year-old with a WiFi connection.
Now don’t get me wrong. I’m not a believer of the whole kids-should-act-like-kids thing. I knew a lot of things when I was sixteen, things that responsible/parental adults didn’t teach me, thinking they were grown-up matters. Some of these matters were about crime and safety, like the particulars of a given rape case, and others were simply juicy gossip and salacious information. Be honest. You knew stuff when you were sixteen too! Admit it! And that’s a good thing. Information never hurts, not unless the information has been dug out for the sole purpose of hurting others. But all the readily available matter has done one thing─ It has made us insensitive.

The other day, one of my friends said she didn’t find The Girl with a Dragon Tattoo disturbing. For those of you who haven’t read it, the story has a lot to do with a father-son duo of serial rapists and killers, and some of the torture in the book (yes, the son has a torture room) should have us creeped out of our wits. Even if we don’t dwell on the creepiness, even if we zap out of the disturbing world of fiction the moment we slam the book shut, we should not be able to read the book with complete apathy. I mean, that’s not what the writer intended. But that’s what happens these days. We’ve seen and read about so many brutal rapes and killings that it’s not shocking anymore. A video of Saddam Hussain’s beheading is a click away. Every imaginable type of pornography, even the most painful and masochistic, is available online and after a while, it’s not a shock to see someone bound by chains to a bedpost, crying for mercy. In fact, it might be the opposite of disturbing to some.
In a recent episode of celebrity cell phone hacking, Oscar winner (not to mention my current favorite) Jennifer Lawrence had nude photographs leaked on to the Internet. The pictures were shared by millions of people, some feigning disgust and saying they are only sharing to give an example of what disgusts them, others unabashedly sending the photos to their friends and enjoying the process. A beautiful woman’s body up for display. People enjoy it. Fine. (I’m not fine that people enjoy it without permission from the beautiful woman in question, but that’s another matter.) But the thing is that Jennifer Lawrence is an American actress working in Hollywood, and she has never said never to appearing nude in a movie. Maybe some time in the coming decade, we’ll get to see her as exposed as she was in those pictures, but the only difference will be that she would be filmed after giving consent and after going through the complicated legalities of nudity clauses. Also, she’ll be filmed in a controlled environment. How does the viewer care if he/she sees the exact same case? Well, he does. Nudity doesn’t shock us anymore, thanks to abundance of it in the media. What excites us is the insensitive approach to getting a view of it, the hacking of a cell phone, the fact that someone peered into someone else’s private life, the voyeurism.

These days, every website has sidebars full of headlines with the word ‘shocking’ in it. The Shocking Truth Behind This Woman’s Success Story, The Shocking Discovery in the NYC Murder Case, The Shocking New Way to Lose Weight, The Shocking Secrets in Kim and Kanye’s Marriage….You get the drift. The ‘shocking’ grabs our eyeballs. We click the link, get led to a page containing the story, and even though most of the stories are eyebrow-raise worthy (I mean, the website’s creative team worked hard to raise eyebrows), our eyebrows stay firmly in place and our jaws comfortably in position. We are immune to shock via social media. We don’t get shocked anymore.

Some people rationalize the situation. They say stuff happens, it’s the harsh truth and we need to accept the truth. But is that the truth? Come on. Most of us are too wimpy to have a tiny lizard crawl down our arm, so it’s not our stoic, courageous acceptance of truth that keeps us from being shocked or disturbed. So is the truth merely that we’ve learnt to distance ourselves from what we see, hear or read? We’ve lost the ability to be affected, there’s just too much to be affected by.

Now, I’m not a judge. I don’t know if this is good or bad. I just have one question: how long before we stop being disturbed by an actual torture room?