Like the shadow in the dark, the figure from my first Shadow House PITS production, I wonder if the best NY resolution would be to stay silent and communicate in a kind of monosyllabic way or with hand eye contact only! Keep writing of course; but not add to the verbal clutter of chattering nonsense that occupies the wavelengths of everyday discourse! The dominant adage of the age seems to be that introspection is bad and so our views about ourselves are made up of the views and interpretations about us offered by others; by friends and family members, work colleagues and even the public (eg. think social media)! And with that comes the need to offer opinion on everything in a neurotic sweat about our supposed need to communicate and engage with some vaguely defined universe! So as a writer, one tries hard to hear but not be distracted. Perhaps we need to consciously choose not to participate in the neurosis of the age; we need more silence if we are not to be infected with an insidious straitjacket of victimhood!
How much talk do we engage in expounding on some slight or hurt suffered at the hands of someone or some organisation that has conspired to affect our well-being in some way? How much explanation is offered for how we are innocent victims of others. Like the child in school who always claims he/she is being “picked on” by some teacher. No matter how often schools are changed or special arrangements are made to try and support such a child, he/she will continue to complain about being “picked on”. And so the talk. There is lots of talk. The psychologists will offer a disorder to explain the defiance of the young person. Adults will find further evidence of some disorder to secure them in the knowledge that their aberrant behaviour is NOT within their control. And the more we talk the more we realise that everyone has been abused in some way at some time. EVERYONE (LET ME SHOUT IT)! And there is a likelihood that almost everyone has abused or hurt someone else in some way at some time! And while no one likes the label, many will deny their actions were in fact examples of abuse.
The parent who smothers the child with love and over-protective behaviour to the extent of stunting the emotional growth of a child is unlikely to view such behaviour as child abuse. I mean, they may be actually praying for much of the time! Yet it is probably just as significant as the black eye producing abusive father who physically torments his spouse and his children. Both people are emotionally restricted and immature human beings; both can claim victimhood and victimiser when different circumstances are applied. Both signify the need to control while demonstrating a lack of willingness to listen.
While some people become violent because they don’t have a command of language, most notably the spoken language, some people use language as violence against others. Smotherers uses language to destroy the imagination and the self-esteem of others under their care. The physical abuser uses fists or weapons as a replacement for words and language. Both are violent. Both use strategies of abuse. And probably most people have abused others at some time through either or both of these means.
A more complicated framework for abuse centres within two frameworks: belief system abuse and sexual abuse. Both of these summon the shadows of potent and imbedded foundations about which individuals have little clear idea as to their source.
The machete wielding killer enacting the orders of Pol Pot’s regime or the jihadist suicide bomber are driven by beliefs which may also be driven by a dose of fear. The counter intuitive action of killing is over-ridden by a system of enforced belief. Belief based abuse (see https://shadowhousepits.net/2017/07/08/to-believe-is-to-kill/e) is perhaps the most devasting cultural neurosis of our time.
Sexual abuse is just as complicated with very little agreement in psychology as to any one defining causing element. However, it is likely that most people have experienced some form of sexual abuse. While the degree of significance varies from seemingly playful sex games to violent rape, it should not be any surprise that people are speaking about incidents in their lives; not only in the workplace!
Being punched in the head or being grabbed by the balls by a colleague are both examples of abuse. Yet people openly talk about being punched in the head. Being grabbed by balls and having them squeezed as another man holds you down is less likely to be discussed. Yet both are abusive incidents.
The sexual assault has very different connotations than a simple punch in the head, even a punch that might kill you. From ME TOO to the “new puritanism” the current chatter centres on sexual abuse in all forms mostly directed at women. To even comment as a male, more particularly as a white male is to invite almost hysterical condemnation. It is seen by some as an issue of “appropriation”. And this is a problem with a “me too” scenario where “me-to-ism” can belittle the very notion that it purports to address.
If we probe everyone we know with questions concerning their experiences, we would hardly find a person alive who has NOT lived through some form of sexual abuse or other form of physical violence. Perhaps our friends might have forgotten but then will remember it when questioned; the “oh yeah” moment when someone connects the dots of memory and determines that yes, that particular action or thing was in fact an act of sexual violence or abuse on me!
The fact is sexual violence and violence (both physical and psychological) in general against individuals is so wide-spread and so pervasive that to proclaim a special position as a “Me Too” victim is in danger of actually empowering the most heinous perpetrators while failing to acknowledge the dark side of human beings. Rather than being a “Me Too” victim might it be better to adopt an attitude of fight from the beginning; teaching children to be wary of the universe and be aware of the sabre-tooth tiger hiding in the darkness and prepared to devour us. In the shadows of our existence lie perils from a universe that is neither kind nor prosperous. It is neutral and dangerous with some people prepared to indulge in its darkest hidden elements that are in fact within all of us. Deny any of it at one’s peril. The situations that give rise to “me-too-ism” are the very notions of romantic and idealised visions of reality. The horror that life and reality might not be the idealised vision that we were taught or that we teach our children is demonstrated in the absurd statements emanating from celebrities, and others who worked with celebrities, where patriarchal privileges pounced like sabre-toothed tigers from the shadows of the psyche.
The depths of the shadow are found in not so isolated incidents every day around the world; and if we wish to see how deep and murky it becomes we find it in the stories surrounding the rape and murder of a six year old child. Worse is the passive acceptance or blind eye turned to cultural honour killings and blaming of rape victims for their ordeal. Attitudinal and underlying perceptions emanate from the shadow of one’s own belief system. Essentially, there is no depth the human being cannot plummet.
While feeling sympathy for the “Me Too” phenomena, I feel it has the potential to conceal a more fundamental reality. In an age where Donald Trump is president of the USA there can be a temptation to see his ascendancy as a kind of aberrant situation. “Me Too” is a defiant line in the sand where people support a particular stand against sexual abuse and cry “time’s up” against the “grab pussy” line articulated so well by the US president. Yet he merely articulates positions held by a huge number of people in the heart of twenty-first century technological civilisation. He reflects back the sentiments from the deeply hidden shadows that others conceal and the many would prefer didn’t exist and act like it doesn’t really exist.
How ironic that Germain Greer and other feminist writers such as Margaret Atwood should be attacked for their cautious views on “Me Too” and criticism of its “witch-hunt” elements creating a kind of universal “victim” mentality. As writers of plays, scripts and indeed writing of any kind, it is time to be silent and listen and not get caught up in the spinning out of control of media driven victim-politics. There is very real abuse, criminal action and suffering within the gamut that is part of an attack on less powerful people. This abuse is physical, psychological and sexual. But we need to be cautious and careful here.
People driving any particular movement or action have particular agendas. They don’t necessarily want YOUR contribution, support or advocacy. In fact, you would most likely be attacked for appropriating another’s struggle. There are leaders within any movement and these leaders have their own shadows that are kept hidden and provide a hold over them like strait-jackets that seek out and identify threats to their own positions as spokespersons for their respective movements.
So SHUT UP. Be silent but study. Use the shadow model to assess and identify what is happening in the world today. Be prepared to acknowledge there is more than what is obvious. The loudest voices may well be those hiding things just as reprehensible as the things they purport to be exposing.
“We do not live in the best of all possible worlds. There are monsters inside each of us. Those monsters must be made coherent, and given their place, or they will consume us. What is the place of a monster? That, in many ways, is the purpose of life – to understand and tame the hell within you. But when we deny its power, and seek to chain and ignore it, the monster only turns against us. When we claim we are good, it takes the throne and tells us we know nothing.”
(From “Jung and the Trumpian Shadow” written by Alexander Blum, published 2 Oct 2017)
I suggest our theatre, particularly a critical theatre from the shadows and the cracks in the cultural psyche needs to take this advice.