Saturday, July 15, 2006

Bathos, exploitation, death of a child

When a child dies, or is dying, certain things happen, even to the shallowest and most facile of people.

First, they cease to be completely sane, at least in a normal sense. Coping skills break, perspectives change, a deeper level of emotion occurs, and fault lines are exposed.

Second, the state is exploited by others, who generally have no idea of what is going on. Most of the comments are "see, something terrible, which I can exploit for bathos" (well, they intend pathos, but you know how it is) or "see, people in the grip of soul wrenching grief, acting soul wrenched or out of complete control."

Third, they tend to find more contact with reality.

Which is why I was rather harsh in comments regarding the play On the Romance of a Dying Child.

In that play, two parents have a child they think is dying. In the play they have various emotions and discussions, appearing to come to embrace, in a shallow way, pity and self-absorbed views ("But now I have a dying child. That’s better than a big nose."), when they discover the child might not die. That leaves them with the closer: "(The doctor nods and exits. Pause. They look at each other. They look away. Pause.) What if he doesn't die? "

I only remark because the play is a good example of the typical use of the death of a child (real or fictional) as a way to exploit bathos for shallow, inauthentic and manipulative ways -- which you will see over and over again.

So, the play noted not because it is unusual, tripe, but because it is typical tripe, of a kind you should be aware you will be assaulted by continually, for the rest of your life, once a child dies.


Anonymous said...

The play may be shallow and exploitative, but it's not bathetic. It never aims for pathos. It aims for irony. It's more comedy than tragedy.

Stephen said...

It never aims for pathos. It aims for irony. and humor at the expense of parents whose child is dying.

That it manages to miss what it aims for, and that what it really is engaged in is mockery of the parents of a child who is dying, doesn't make it any more admirable or any less wallowing in bathos on the way to the target it misses.

Anonymous said...

The play (pretty clumsily IMO) mocks self-centered parents. The dying child is just a MacGuffin (if plays can be said to have MacGuffins), and that's arguably shallow and exploitative and even contemptible, but I don't really see it as bathetic.

Stephen said...

and that's arguably shallow and exploitative and even contemptible, but I don't really see it as bathetic

You may well be right. I was seeing bathos only in the invocation of the death of a child on the way to other things, not as the focus of the play, which I saw as exploiting that bathos, but it may be merely exploitative, not sustainted enough to be bathetic.

Good point.

Stephen said...

The author has explained himself.

His intent was to declare certain emotions and feelings (in the loss of sanity that is the death of a child) completely off-limits -- making the parent overwhelmed by grief fair target as a monster for having those thoughts.

And, to attack them for the feelings and for expressing them to each other.

Helps me understand why I reacted with such anger at the play. The author was intending to sit as judge and jury of all parents with children facing death and declare those who, at any time, veer into inanity or banal thoughts, monsters, deserving of even worse.

May he receive every blessing I have ever received, four fold.

annegb said...

Anonymous, are you crazy? There is nothing comedic in a dying child.

I'm with Stephen. I don't even care if he explained himself, nobody sits there in the hospital with their child dying and discusses how people will treat them after. You sit there numb, in shock, and feel like throwing up and breaking things. It was simply awful.