Wednesday, June 11, 2014
On the Tourism of Suffering
One of the things I liked most about April Bernard's latest post to NYRBlog ("Caged Laughter") is that the "entertainment factor" that has made Orange Is the New Black such a success "turns the viewer into a tourist of suffering." I view this as a justifiably sharp choice of words, and I say this because I found myself using even sharper language for comparable situations in the past. Specifically, I have referred to the appeal of the photographs of Dorothea Lange as "Disadvantage Pornography" and the documentaries of Dan Brown providing in-depth analysis of terrorist acts as "Terror Pornography." Mind you, there is nothing new about any of these genres or their pornographic power. In many respects that power can be traced back to the literature (if we may use that term) of the Marquis de Sade, whose primary (if not only) intention was to induce arousal in the reader (not to mention to author). I am not saying that either Lange or Brown did what they did out of some perverted sense of self-indulgence. I am saying that, as consumers, we are more likely to derive a certain prurient pleasure from the work, perhaps because it diverts us from thinking about the issues that those creators really wanted us to consider.