The traveling preacher

In Circus, Current reading, Drafts, Hautvoir, Revision, Scene Prep on March 17, 2015 at 8:12 am

Printed newspapers don’t belong to my usual reading, although I leaf through them when they’re available in waiting rooms. One held my attention yesterday for three reasons: the utter inanity of a piece of hand-wringing published under the title of Editorial, plus two photographs given almost equivalent visual treatment. One of them on a two-page spread involving the current incarnation of something I struggle to put into proper words. Since I make a point of avoiding videos designed to celebrate their crimes, I can’t say if the man is or  is not connected to hate murders committed in France against military personnel and children and workers in a Jewish school. Whoever he may be, he’s made the grade in terms of news coverage. I was struck by the utter banality of his features.

Struck even more by the fact the newspaper chose to position with equal prominence a young man on trial for his participation in a demonstration. The photo shows him with fabric over his face and his clown nose well in evidence. His accusers – four policemen – swear he threw stones at them. The young man swears he did no such thing. He is a clown activist – one of several who show up at tense encounters between civilians and police, and attempt to turn down the heat through parody. Unfortunately, authorities don’t have much of a sense of humor. Even sadder, desk editors at some papers play along with the Fear and Trembling themes in the current headlines.

One among several reasons for writing fiction? The opportunity to re-visit those moments when anger, fear, horror or indignation wiped out everything other than the herding instinct. To re-visit and find there  some of the other elements that were in the mix and went unnoticed.

For story purposes, one of the things that strike me in the “after-Charlie”, pre-electoral mood here: the justifications given to anything-goes verbal attacks against any and every individual or minority the attacker chooses to scapegoat. . Those who feel the need to defend their right to slander, threaten and humiliate say: the cartoonists who were killed at Charlie Hebdo made fun of everything and everyone. Therefore, I’m allowed to do the same. As if your next door neighbor and a pencilled rendition of a symbol or concept were interchangeable. Someone drew the Pope with lifted skirts? Hurray, that means I can pour vile qualifiers on… take your pick. Of course, some attackers don’t bother with justifications. Their cause is just and the Infidel – whomever he or she may be – must disappear.

A few lines in Robertson Davies’ The Manticore, relative to this topic. Someone saying to another: “You are a fanatic. Don’t you know what fanaticism is? It’s an overcompensation for doubt.” And this, for the young man with the opaque eyes and the unremarkable features : “It was the look of one who has laid himself open to a force that is inimical to man, and whose power to loose that force upon the world was limited only by his imagination, his opportunities, and his daring.” Daring being the lowest member on the totem pole.

All of this as prep for aspects of a story I’ve been attempting to write for some time. A slow process, much slower than the latest batch of breaking news, whatever it may be.


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