Thursday, September 9, 2010

Sensitized To Subjectivity

Sometimes my sense of genre adventure causes me to make decisions I later regret. One such recent choice was watching the unrated trailer for the upcoming grindhouse film Hobo With a Shotgun. Talk about high (and low) concept. Yeah, I should've known better. In it, a begrimed, scattergun-wielding Rutger Hauer turns several baddies' internal organs to jelly with liberal applications of double-aught-sized lead, brutally bludgeons another with the gun's stock, and treats a grievous knife wound with hooch and duct tape. Meanwhile, various secondary characters get sliced and diced and decapitated and dismembered all in highly stylized, rainbow-colored cinematography. It's thoroughly unpleasant stuff.

Ironically, though, the gore wasn't what stuck with me. In fact, it largely disappeared from my memory within minutes. What haunted me were the babies. You see, the trailer opens with Hauer standing in the observation window of a hospital nursery while freshly scrubbed infants stare at his filthy form. He says:
I used to be like you. Long time ago. You're all brand-new and perfect. No mistakes, no regrets. People look at you and think how wonderful your future will be. They want you to be something special. Like a doctor. Or a lawyer. Hate to tell you this, but if you grow up here you're more likely to end up selling your bodies on the streets or shooting dope from dirty needles in a bus stop.
Now, I know that director Jason Eisener doesn't want his audience to focus on the horror of wasted youth and squandered potential. This isn't Requiem for a Dream. No, Hobo looks like a film that relishes going over the top, frolicking in filthy violence. But I have a one-year-old child who's all smiles and curiosity, who's learning the beginnings of language and delights in nothing more than flinging wood blocks. This child has an entire existence to experience. No wonder the trailer's intro terrified me.

My personal critical framework is founded on an author's intent, in subjecting myself to what another is trying to communicate, and that's the first work we all should do -- at least as readers. But as writers we have to remember that those who consume our works will have subjective responses to them. Even if they fully comprehend what we're trying to do, they'll also have reactions unique to themselves. We need to keep that in mind while we're composing and exercise caution when inserting content that may cause certain segments of society to stumble. Sometimes a little sensitivity is in order.

(Picture: CC 2010 by
Jeremy Edward Shiok)


C. N. Nevets said...

Well said, Loren.

Loren Eaton said...

Gracias, sir. Although looking at that graphic, I think I could've exercised some more sensitivity in selecting it.

C. N. Nevets said...

No graphic you post will ever create as much commentary and controversy as that last cat picture.

Loren Eaton said...

I actually thought I learned a bit through that exchange. Most of our cats just prowled around outside eating mice or lizards and then disappeared. Never spent all that much time watching them or their behavior.

Ben Mann said...

I think we sometimes forget that our own tastes change. While I didn't mind the occasional gory movie in my twenties, now I have two young children I find my tastes for such fiction (and others) has changed. My change follows the change in perspective that I think many parents go through: Seeing not only a child's future played out or observing his reaction to something scary, but also considering what sort of society these stories represent.

While I believe such changes in perspective are normal, I'm also convinced they're particularly beneficial to us as writers. When we choose to ask why we're feeling sensitive to a particular issue we can then most effectively show that emotional content through our characters.

Therein lies much of my theory behind theme, anyway. ;)

Jim Murdoch said...

The problem is that you have absolutely no idea who that reader will be or what he will bring. That paragraph didn’t faze me at all. But then my daughter is thirty. It reminded me strangely enough of the scene in Woody Allen’s Annie Hall where an adult Woody gets to sit in on one of his childhood classes and the kids say where they’re going to be when they’re his age. I believe the last one, a plain, bespectacled girl announced she was either going to be into S&M or crack.

Now, if Hauer had then said, “So think of this as me doing you a favour,” and shot the lot I might not be quite so philosophical. Then again the scene in Alien V Predator: Requiem in the postnatal wing didn’t bother me either. I guess I must be getting callous in my old age. That said I still thought the film sucked so I mustn’t be dead yet.

Loren Eaton said...


How interesting: I've had very much the same development over the years. My tolerance for over-the-top violence has drastically diminished from my mid-twenties on. It's not that I'm inherently against gritty subject matter anymore; I just like for it to be handled with a delicate touch.

Loren Eaton said...


The problem is that you have absolutely no idea who that reader will be or what he will bring.

You're absolutely right. We can't possibly plan for every subjective response. That would cripple our creativity. But we can pick some of the big areas and skirt around them. Sexualized violence, for example, is one I think should be generally left alone.