Despite what some would have you believe, this is not a universally applicable question.
We watched The Dark Knight this evening, because all six rentable copies of Batman Begins were checked out and overdue, and because listening to the latest, TDKR-centric podcast of Comedy Film Nerds made us want to go watch the third movie again, which we couldn’t do. During the recording (the Side B half of the most recent posting, which is composed entirely of spoilers, and so can talk more freely/deeply about aspects of the movie glossed over in spoiler-free reviews), Graham Elwood is pushing his reverence of TDKR and forgiving it of its trespasses, citing Christopher Nolan’s skilled grasp of the PTSD-wracked personality of Batman as yet more proof that he really knows what he’s doing. At which point guest podcaster Mike Schmidt bursts in with “Now wait a minute, are you to close to this?” More quietly, Chris Mancini adds, “Yeah, as soon as you said PTSD I thought that.”
I pressed pause here and did a cursory search to see if Elwood himself had suffered PTSD or if it was just a cause he is passionate about. As far as I can determine it’s the latter—not that it’s my business to know; I just figured that if he was so unabashedly open about the illness itself, he’d have used himself as an example. I don’t think he has, but he cites a comedy tour he did overseas, and soldiers and relatives of soldiers he has talked to, as having made a huge impact on him. So I went back and pushed play and listened to the rest of the podcast.
Even if he had experienced PTSD himself, though, I still grind my teeth at the idea of being “too close” to have your opinions count. Of there being the concept of “too close,” when it comes to what you are sitting there feeling in response to something.
Do realize that I’m broadening this out here. I understand that if your job is to dispense dispassionate analysis of some exterior force or situation, some emotional distance is required. I rather doubt reacting to movies (art forms designed to elicit an emotional response!) is one such instance, though I can see how Schmidt’s frustration with Elwood’s kneejerk forgiveness toward any technical shortcomings in the film would lead him to make the accustation. But that doesn’t make it a justified accusation. The hell do you mean, “are you too close to this?” Elwood goes on to say that it’s not just PTSD and Nolan’s treatment of it that makes him so loyal to the film; it’s the years of crappy Batman movies, his fierce adoration of the comics, the revelatory awesomeness of Nolan’s take on Batman, etc. etc. But even if he himself had suffered PTSD I don’t understand how his thoughts on the film would be subpar, tainted in some way, in comparison with someone who hadn’t had PTSD and thus could claim that, I guess they would say, “distance.”
We’re all tainted, people.
We’re all too close to something. We’ve all felt things too akin to this character, or been in fucked-up situations too close to this book or that movie, or had to make a decision one way or the other, and picked the wrong one, and then seen our choices reflected in fiction. And we reacted to it, probably more strongly than those who lacked the connection. And that doesn’t rule our reactions out as invalid—the strength of your feelings should in no way make them moot. What kind of sense does that make?
There are degrees of acceptability here, of course. If you’re a judge and a defendant looks like the guy who beat you up after school every Friday for ten years, maybe you shouldn’t be handling this case. Or if you’re a lawyer. Or a cop. Or a doctor, faced with having to treat your daughter’s rapist. We can’t all be Atticus Finch, even if we know we should be, and if you’re going to handle the man roughly because you’re “too close” to shit he has done in the past, maybe you should hand him over to another doctor.
But reactions to art? Film? Books? Speeches? Mandates? News? How exactly is someone expressly not in a position of authority re: these things capable of being “too close” to them?**
If you used the internet last year, you knew about this. You probably had lots of friends and relatives who posted it. If they were “close” to someone who died, or to somewhere people died, they might have been posting the bungled quote in order to look like the kind, beneficent people they wanted others to think they were. Or to convince themselves they were. Or maybe they’re just saints. I don’t know.
But those without the closeness—I fumed, seeing them do it. A relative of mine decided, like who knows how many other good little christians trying to look like extra good little christians, posted it to her Facebook page, accompanied by a slew of “likes” and self-righteous condemnation of the people who were glad bin Laden was dead. For various reasons, this relative of mine was the only person I saw posting this on Facebook, so she bore the brunt of my reaction, however unwittingly. I never mentioned anything about it, online or in person, since. This, though, is what I would have said to her:
So you’ve decided to paint yourself as a good samaritan in bright neon colors and plaster it across the internet, to make sure all your friends know. Good for you. I don’t suppose they’d think so much of you if they heard all the racist homophobic bullshit you spout when you’re drunk, but then I don’t know your friends, so maybe they would approve. Who knows. But while you’re busy congratulating yourself on your peacefulness and oneness with the world you spend every day that isn’t today complaining about on Facebook, let me explain something. You lost your father when _______. He was taken from you, but because you’re a good little believer when it suits you to be, you never felt an actual person was taking him away from you, robbing you of him without right or reason, out of nowhere. You never felt that. You felt shock and pain that I’m sure you still feel, but there was never anyone to blame. Never any perpetrator. Maybe you even had angry venting sessions with some sort of religious representative, but you swallow the dogma and you’re not treating the concept of God as a physical person who took your dad away. Natural causes, and all that. Working in mysterious ways.
But if you had felt, from the time you heard of a pre-meditated disaster until the time the line in front of the phones cleared, and someone lent you money, and you got on the phone with someone who could tell you they were standing in front of your dad and he was still alive—if you felt, during all that time, that someone took him from you—you would have been a better person than I, if you still wanted to blindly repost some fashionable pronouncement of scandalized goodwill, when the person you thought had done this thing was dead.
I lost no one. By chance, the very few people I care about were elsewhere. And I know that my minutes-long fear that things were otherwise in no way compares to the feelings of those who actually lost loved ones. I know that, implicitly, I have much less reason to be angry than they. Much less reason to react at all. But for those thirty minutes of not-knowing, I felt that I had been robbed. That someone could have—might have done so already, or might have caused the chain of events that lead to blocked passageways, flickering lights, and gas leaks that could even at that very moment be quenching out life—taken away someone I held dear. As a deliberate act. And yes, I was angry. And I stayed angry as so many of his friends died and he didn’t, and he entered a depression, and watched the news into the wee hours of the morning, and tried to eat himself into another shape and another person so as, I assume, to escape who he was—someone who couldn’t go after the perpetrators anymore—and what he was—alive.
I stayed angry. Clearly. To some extent.
And if you think you who never felt murder had been done to you, never felt that someone with eyes and hands and feet to continue to walk over the earth with had removed the very possibility of you ever seeing your loved one again—if you can tell me I should just be a nicer, more christian person, or that I should turn the other cheek, or welcome the hardships or revel in the mysterious ways or whatever the hell you tell people who have been hurt, robbed, by another human being—you are either a beautifully compassionate person, or a real bitch.
And I know what you think about anyone who’s gay or, god forbid, not white, so I’m kind of leaning toward the latter.
So, yeah, I don’t understand this “too close” business. You’ve got to be “too” close to something, or you wouldn’t be living right. Someone or something has to matter to you. And if it matters you’re going to feel something about it. And if feeling something about it makes your thoughts invalid, well, what the hell else are people for? Who else is going to do the feeling?
**I am aware that by the end of this I am no longer speaking of reacting to fiction or art forms. I guess what I’m saying is that, barring my holding a position of authority where my actions, influenced by my strong emotions, might lay untoward claim on someone’s life or person, why should there be a “too close” zone of opinion? Who gets to draw those lines?