On a somewhat tangential note – but one that I hope to bring around to the topic of Randy Lenz – today is my last day of school before Spring Break, a vacation that is well-deserved and much-anticipated. And a break during which I intend to catch up on my IJ reading.
In my Film class, we are currently watching E.T. I had hoped earlier in the week that there would be enough time in class today to finish the film (I even cut out the traditional “Fun Video Friday” to make sure there was time). But we all know how that Robert Burns poem goes.
So throughout class, I am watching the film and watching the clock, and quickly realizing that we are not going to finish the film. But as we inched closer to the bell ringing at 10:50, I begin to to make a horrifying realization. We are going to end this film right when E.T. dies. And sure enough, there’s poor little Gertie with tears streaming down her face, convulsing as the scientists try to zap E.T. back to life with the electric paddles. One of the most heart-wrenching scenes not just in this film, but in all of American cinema. And that is the last image these kids have etched in their brains as they head off to Spring Break.
But then, in a feeble attempt to pacify my guilty conscience, I started to rationalize this atrocious mistake. It’s not like E.T. actually died. I mean, he’s only a puppet. And it’s not like little Drew Barrymore is actually crying. She’s acting. And doing a damn fine job of it in that scene. So even though that image will be etched in my brain forever, and it may take years of therapy, I can appease my own guilt knowing that no extra-terrestrials nor cute little girls were actually harmed in the making of that scene. They are no more than digital images projected onto a screen.
Now here is where I try to tie this in to Randy Lenz. Randy Lenz is a horrible person. In Dave’s post yesterday, he enumerated Randy’s transgressions, giving further tangible proof of just how horrible he is. He is just plain horrible.
But like E.T. and poor little Gertie, Randy is not real. In fact, he is less real than E.T. and Gertie. E.T. is a puppet-sort-of-thing, and Gertie is a character played by a real actress, so there is some sense of reality to them, a physical manifestation. But Randy is just words, just ink on a page. There is nothing real or physical or tangible about him.
And yet, we are moved – some quite deeply – by those ink splatters on the pages. We are disgusted, horrified, appalled as we decode those ink splatters into actual text, and then interpret that text to give it meaning, and then respond emotively to the meaning given to text.
Our man, Saint Dave (Wallace, not Laird), once said, “Good literature’s job is to comfort the disturbed and disturb the comfortable.” Last week I wrote about the comfort that I found in reading about the community formed in the Boston AA, and how I wished we had more safe places like that. And this week, I am understandably disturbed by the descriptions of Randy’s horrible abuse of these animals that unfortunately cross his path.
And yet, both of these extreme emotional responses come from mere ink on a page. No images. No heartbreaking performances by child actors. Just ink on a pages.
I guess that’s what makes it “good literature.”