When I was a young girl, I remember reading a book titled’ The Emperor’s New Clothes”. It was funny to me at the time that a person, (the Emperor) could let himself be so caught up in what others thought, that he ignored the obvious, that he was naked, until a little boy from the crowd told him the fact. All his advisors and his clothes maker, told him that his new suit was so fabulous, that only the most sophisticated people would be able to see it. Fearing that if he, the Emperor, admitted that he could in fact NOT see it, would mean he was not sophisticated, he went along with the clever opportunist clothes maker.
If we were in a similar situation, would we tell the truth, risking our own reputation, or remain silent? Would we be willing to speak up when something we saw crossed the line of decency? Would we know if something crossed the line? Or have we become too desensitized to it, that we wouldn’t even recognize that there was in fact a line, and that it had been crossed?
We might be quick to answer, that we would never, but yet slip up and not notice when a line is crossed. We might claim artistic interpretation when we sit and watch a streaming show, or view movies, that would be called into question, so that we could not incriminate ourselves. We, like the emperor, do not want to admit we do not like what we see for fear of not fitting in with the crowd.
I was recently at a screening event for short films. It is something I enjoy and look forward to every year. My companion, my son, also a filmmaker, and I had selected a set of movies that we wanted to view and settled down into our sit in the crowed auditorium. The lights dimmed and the movie short began.
We were lulled into the movie with its interesting camera angles, characters and imagery. And then something so bizarre happened that it left my son and I shaking our heads as we looked at each other.
On screen, a young boy, aged 11, according to the script, flashed onto the screen with a pool of blood leaking onto the carpet from a slashed stomach and on the floor a pair of scissors. It was a horrific scene of an unfortunately common sight in our world. My son had known it too eerily similar, as he had once been in situation in which his roommate attempting suicide by slashing his abdomen. My son, covered in his roommates blood, intervened and saved the man’s life, driving him to the hospital.
But, then it happened, part of the crowd actually laughed. Yes, that’s right, laughed. When the woman playing the boy’s mom collapses, another burst of laughter. It wasn’t the whole crowd, as others, around us also let out quiet gasps, at the sight of the apparent death of the 11 year old and the collapse of the mom. But, the majority were laughing. The boy had actually, been staging the suicide, but in a twist, reaches for an Indian spear and plunges it into the mom’s neck, and this time and actual death. And once again there was laughter. I can’t repeat my thoughts at that moment, but my son remarked that this movie is terrible.
My son and I were dumbfounded that people would actually laugh. My son whispered “They must be privileged people”, meaning that in their lives, such a sight would be amusing. They had never seen something like real life in which people struggle with mental health issues. It was simply a funny acting scene, worthy of an award, which it had received. Like the Emperor’ naked clothes, they were following the crowd and not realizing just what was being shown. The line had been crossed. In the name of art and amusement. An interview later with the producer and writer, confirmed that this was just another well written script. They had been blinded by the form and function to not realize what message was being sent out into the world. They were patting themselves on the back for their artistic genius and awards.
Some might call it dark humor, but this wasn’t a horror film, or a drama, or a murder mystery, and there is simply no humor in childhood suicide, or murdering ones’ mom. It is not artistic expression, meant to be laughed at. It is a tragedy faced by too many these days. It is not humorous. Too many people face mental health issues to make it a subject of humor so dark. It really makes me wonder what is happening to the world.
But, before you rush to judgement about the young Gen Z, or millennials are to blame; the crowd that laughed were baby boomers. I hear so much from Gen Z that boomers are to blame for many of the world’s problems, and I can agree with that, given the lack of compassion over suicide and a failure to understand the world in which we live. They laugh at the world from ivory towers, far removed from the pain and problems.
My prayer is that young filmmakers will take up the mantel to create new, fresher material for movies, and that we, the audience will turn off the streams that cross the line, and walk out of movies that do the same. Let’s be the little boy in the crowd that calls out the Emperor of the arts. “Hey, you’re naked and you just crossed the line!” – God Bless Nancy