I was a paralegal for fourteen years between 1993 and 2007. During that time, I worked on a lot of personal injury and death cases that had some pretty gruesome photos of accident victims. There were so many that were gory, that my boss, in his infinite wisdom, didn’t want people to go through the file and accidentally stumble across them. In fact, he didn’t want to see them either. So, because I could stomach them and other people couldn’t, it became my job to be in charge of those photos, to look at them, write a synopsis of them, and then to seal them in an envelope where no one else could see them.
I stopped being a paralegal when I needed to home school my son, and at that time, I opened up my own photography studio. (Prior to that, I’d been a freelance photographer in my spare time and enjoyed photography as a hobby, and I had actually trained with a wedding photographer in Toronto for several months, so photography seemed like a logical career move for me.) As you can imagine, during the time I was a photographer, I had to keep up with current popular trends, even if I didn’t personally care for them, in order to keep my clients happy. Thanks to Hollywood, one of the popular trends was and is zombies.
A couple of years ago, I decided I wanted to do a “Zombie Day” photo session near Halloween, where clients could come dressed as zombies, and we’d go out into the woods and photograph them being “undead.” However, in order to advertise for such an event, as a photographer, I had to have models to use for my promotional materials. (You can’t just lure photographic clients in with your words; you have to show them what they can look like.) So I kept pestering my kids and their friends to model for me. They were always too busy.
Fast forward to this year. The photography industry is taking a nosedive. It isn’t appreciated as an art anymore, but rather just something to post on someone’s social media page. People would rather take sefies with their own cellphone than to pay someone else who is knowledgeable about posing and lighting to do excellent portraiture of them. (They’d also rather have their “uncle with the nice camera” document their wedding for free so they can spend their budget on beer and alcohol at the reception. But I digress.)
The point is, I decided that 2014 would be my last year as a professional photographer, so I wanted to go out with a bang. As such, last weekend, I got my kids and some of their friends, as well as a professional makeup artist together, and we were all made up as zombies. The makeup artist did a great job using liquid latex and fake blood and eye shadow to create the appearance of rotting flesh. We went to the woods and had a fun photo session which I felt was greatly successful.
However, on our way home, I thought it would be fun to go in our local grocery store (where we know a lot of the employees) and see what people’s reactions would be. However, it was I who left there surprised! As we walked through the store putting this and that into our shopping cart, not one person had a look of astonishment! Most people were, as you can imagine, talking on their cellphones and were so self-absorbed, they couldn’t focus on anything. But even the people that weren’t on the phone didn’t seem to be phased in the least!
I found my trip to the grocery store sad and disappointing. My disappointment was not just because I hoped for a good laugh from people when they encountered a member of the undead. That was the least of my distress. My main sadness was when I realized just how much Hollywood has made society numb to certain things. What once was odd, unique, or taboo, is now commonplace.
When Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho first came to the movies (and no, I was not yet alive then to know this firsthand), if you’ll notice, the famous shower scene involved only the shadow of a hand wielding a knife as well as some scary music to accompany the ominous danger. It was easy for the audience to use their own intelligence and imagine what happened. Nowadays, however, you can’t go to a horror movie like that without seeing entrails, blood, and other such gore.
When the classic film and original zombie movie Night of the Living Dead was out, people had nightmares for weeks. (I admit, the first time I saw it when I was a teenager, I fell asleep in the middle of it because it was in black and white. But I did find the colorized version more entertaining.) Now, though, people wait in eager anticipation for the next episode of “The Walking Dead” that they watch while they eat dinner with their kindergartners!
I find a similar concept to be true with writing. I see so many literary agents that advertise that they “love lots of swear words” or “the more carnage, the better,” or “lots of sex, please.” I just think it’s sad because a lot of it is unnecessary.
I don’t mean to sound like Pollyanna here. In fact, I do think in a lot of cases, some swear words or gore or sex is a necessary part of the plot. As a matter of fact, I’m afraid that I curse a lot more than I should, and I’m not particularly proud of that bad habit. But when I write, I try to avoid it unless it specifically adds to the plot. Come on. Look at what I write. A couple of my novels have the theme of domestic violence. Those scenes would look pretty silly if I said, “Gosh, woman, why on earth did you forget to buy more beer? I’m going to have to beat the tar out of you.” Or in the book where I wrote about a rape and a young woman’s retaliation, it would look like I was insane if I described the scene as, “He held her down and forced himself on her. It was bad. Really bad. Then she cried. A lot.” If you read my bio, you know that Stephen King is one of my favorite authors, so I consider his writing to have a “modest amount” of cursing or violence. But there are some books that I see where literally every single paragraph has profanity and vulgarity included. I’m just saying that it is quite an art form to be able to communicate exactly what is happening, without always giving the play-by-play of exactly what’s going on.
Writing is a personal experience that comes from within the author. As such, just like any other art form, it’s subjective. I have the utmost respect for all artists, whether they be painters, sculptors, songwriters, or novelists. I don’t necessarily like all of their work, but I absolutely admire the fact that they’re using their creative process to produce something. I don’t mean to put down any author whose style includes such frequent use of certain terminology. But in my humble opinion, I feel that it insults my intelligence where any of those scenarios are not just used but abused.
I’m afraid that as a society, as we’re becoming exposed to more, we’re becoming numb to more. And when society becomes numb, it will lose its imagination and expect everything to be laid out in front of them. And it will take more and more exposure to certain elements to get the same shock value. Pretty soon, it will be like zombies in the grocery store.