Dispatches from Suburbia

If I played an instrument, I would have a band called "The Simon Thomsen Sex Tape"; and other musings, rants, and disconnected ramblings.

Thursday, April 19, 2007

Defining Disturbing

Quote of the Day: "I think there's something attractive about extreme stories, but it's not a conscious desire to try and find something shocking or miserable or tragic."
-Michael Winterbottom

I told myself I was done blogging about Virginia Tech, but I think I'm going to be shaken up for quite a while...

I'm worried about the effect this is going to have on Creative Writing programs in universities around the country. I'd hate to have my work scrutinized for the wrong reasons. I've taken several writing workshop courses at UNM--nonfiction, fiction, and scriptwriting being my areas of interest--and I've encountered endless pieces that could be considered "disturbing"; from classmates and myself.

But how would an instructor gauge something like that? I've read the two plays of Cho's that have been posted online, Mr. Brownstone and Mr. McBeef (I think that's what they were called), and though they were stupid and quite amateur, but they weren't any more disturbing than anything I or my classmates have written (though I'm sure he has far more unnerving stuff that hasn't been released).

In nonfiction, my writing focused on my father's rather violent suicide attempt, and I describe a tendon sticking out of his wrist as being "a shiny gray noodle." In a following semester, I wrote a short story about a young boy dealing with the horrific rape and murder of his own mother and how the event shapes a small town. This story uses a police photograph of the crime scene as a central image.

Gun violence has always been a concern of mine, and this always finds voice in my work. This semester I wrote a story in which a line cook tries to detain a man robbing the restaurant, only to be shot in the gut. "He bled out right there by the bakery rack," I wrote, and the story goes on to tell how his stepbrother's deal with the death.

And here's the real "disturbing" one: For my scriptwriting classes, two others and I worked on a T.V. pilot about a high school called "American High." The show's hook? The school is dealing with the aftermath of a Columbine-style shooting. We worked so hard on this show, for hours and hours on end, until we had a pilot that we considered "filmable," a show in which we made all our characters real and a show in which we do everything we possibly can in order to not exploit the Columbine tragedy. With our show, we were going to try to explore these tragedies in new ways, not to find answers, but to maybe open different dialogues. Then, Monday's tragedy occurred, shedding things in another light. Mike, one of my writing partners, said to me, "I think we need to re-evaluate 'American High.'" And he's right.

Here's what concerns me: What if my writing were to be misconstrued? I couldn't ask for better writing instructors, and I have faith in their abilities to recognize work that needs revision and work that needs counseling. But will universities be forced to enact regulations regarding "disturbing" work in English programs? And another nagging question, one I've lost sleep over, is one that regards both "American High" and NBC's choice to air Cho's video: What is in good taste and what is exploitative? Where does one draw the line? A re-evaluation is needed indeed.

Anyway, it's time for my Thursday feature, but first I must say that my heart goes out to VT students.

Simon's Current Obsessions:

Homemade sushi.
Check out these California and Caterpillar rolls I made the other night. How awesome-looking is that? So artful I didn't even want to eat it (but of course I gave in).

iPod Video.
I finally got an iPod. How did I go so long without one?


At 8:27 AM, Blogger Erik Donald France said...

Good questions. I'd say keep writing about whatever compels you. "Disturbing" writing does not a killer maker -- Cho had a bundle of red flag "issues," starting with crazy.


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