Thursday, February 13, 2014

"His Wimpiness Knows No Bounds"

As I get older, I appear to be getting wimpier.

When I believed, in that context, that I had already hit the bottom of the barrel.

I have written before about my inordinately low threshold for tolerating disturbing movies.  I have mentioned watching The Godfather (1972) and, knowing where the upsetting parts are (having previously read the book), retreating into the lobby every time the “build-up” music intoned, “Here comes another one!”  Being a movie critic on a local Canadian TV program at the time, this liability caused me considerable trouble reviewing the entirety of the picture.  Though I was surprisingly articulate about the rotating hot dogs at the concession stand.

I have also mentioned, earlier in my life, badgering my older brother into taking me to the newly released 3-D horror sensation The House of Wax, (the 1953 version), only to pull an abrupt one-eighty when we got there, refusing, despite arguments and threats, to set foot into the theater.  I remained outside for two hours until my brother finally emerged to shuttle me home.  (I at least partially blame my brother for this debacle.  On the bus ride to the theater, he and his buddies got me so worked up about how scary it was going to be, it precipitated a preemptive panic attack.)

Indian pictures scared me, especially when the drums stopped, because everyone knows, “When the drums stop, they attack!”  Murder mysteries were also out.  The film directors employed this strategy of keeping the screen darkly lit (for some reason, not an oxymoron), requiring moviegoers to focus more closely on the events that I, in particular, did not want to see.  War pictures…come on, you form an attachment to some platoon member, and they shoot him in the head. 

In those days, I was unable to attend anything where they wore uniforms unless those uniforms were inhabited by Martin and Lewis or Abbott and Costello.  Or Donald O’Connor (and his hilarious talking mule.)  (“In those days.”  Like I have ever seen Saving Private Ryan.)

As the years went by, as a result of loosening standards concerning content acceptability, advancing technology allowing moviemakers to depict violence more graphically on the screen, as well a financial imperative to go progressively “further” with each film, for me, more and more movies became less and less acceptable.  This past year, as I have mentioned, was an exception.  Numerous Oscar contenders are almost entirely “jolt-free.”  But in the past…

There Will Be Blood speaks for itself.  No Country For Old Men – I wondered “Why not?” and did not bother to find out.

But it’s not just disturbing entertainments I unilaterally steer clear of.  There are parts of real life I assiduously avoid as well.  (And I am not talking about the dentist, though I easily could be, and probably will at some future date.) 

What I am currently giving a total pass to is the 2014 Winter Olympics.

Not because I fear a repeat of the “Munich Massacre” of 1972.  (Though, with its precarious locale, there have been rumblings in that direction.)  My apprehensions are nowhere close to that reasonable.  Generally, the only blood drawn at the Olympics is the competitors’ accidentally pricking their fingers while exchanging commemorative pins.

The thing is, my areas of avoidance have expanded beyond the apprehension of violence to a desire to avoid upsetting situations as a whole. 

This aversion to emotional intensity has reared its head – and I have written about it in the past – at the Summer Olympics as well.  I do not discriminate because it’s snow.  The only difference is that at the Summer Olympics, my reservations are assuaged by the opportunity of watching the participants competing in considerably less clothing.  (“Look ashamed!”  “I am thoroughly ashamed.”)

I cannot for a second watch figure skating.  What if they fall doing a “Triple Axel”, or even a quadruple attempting to achieve “Gold” with their audacious virtuosity, but instead achieving ignominious failure, the dashing of their lifetime’s aspirations, and severe ice chips up the wazoo.  

I cannot, or more accurately I can no longer because I believe I once could – handle that level of generated emotion.  (It was agonizing, but I watched.  And now I can’t.) 

I harken back to recollections of the “horse jumping” at the Summer Olympics, which I can also not tolerate, because of that reverberating clanking sound heard when the horse does not make it cleanly over the jump, its hind-leg hoofs knocking the stick heartbreakingly to the ground.  It is simply too much.  All that effort.  All that expectation.  How horribly devastated they must feel – the rider and the horse. 

And for some reason, I identify.

As bizarre as I always was in this regard, things seem to be getting worse.  Back then, I would look away from the intense moments at the Olympics.  Now, I refuse to even tune in.  (And it’s not just the participants.  Announcer Bob Costas had to bow out because of an eye injury.  The guy’s been waiting for this for four years!)

Explanations are elusive, at least the definitive ones.  I can make up an exclamation, and if it’s persuasive enough, I can convince myself it’s “Case closed.”  But sometimes, that’s just me, wanting to put the issue to bed and proceed on to something else I will probably get wrong.  The following is my provisional rationale for why I appear to have become wimpier.

Heart surgery. 

I recall, a week or so before I went in for my valve repair, deciding to distract myself with a visit to the latest edition of Cirque Du Soleil.  I had attended a number of their earlier offerings, and had thoroughly enjoyed myself.

This time, however, it was different.

On that pre-surgical occasion, the acts of enthralling derring-do surprisingly derringly-didn’t.  Instead, their risk-taking “Feats of Wonder” upset me so much, it took all I had to keep me from bolting out of the Big Top.

There is a mortality issue involved.  And that’s as best as I can explain it.

What I know is, due to who I’ve become, and the effect that certain external stimuli have on me,

I have watched my last “Ice Dancing.”

Though I can still – just barely – watch curling.


Wendy M. Grossman said...

I have a friend who similarly cannot watch any movies or TV shows with any level of violence in them. She puts it down to not watching much TV as a child and never getting used to the idea that the actor who died on Law & Disorder this week will get up, dust himself off, and die next week on some other show.

To reinforce your inability to watch the Olympics, I will just mention that last Winter Olympics one of the athletes actually did get killed in a practice run, I think on the luge, because the course had design errors that made it possible for him to collide with a steel pole. It came out later, that the organizers had been warned that the track was dangerously fast and there had even been other accidents in training runs, but they had chosen to do nothing, presumably because they wanted world records to be set there. After the death, they did alter the track to make it safer, but that was the end of my already low interest level in anything run by the IOC.

Fortunately, tennis, which is the one sport I actually follow, is played year-round and is basically safe.


Bobby Heiss said...

Watched All is Lost last night. Amazing job by Redford, but I guess today's blog means you can't watch it. Unless it's a lot of hyper-hyperbole...& I hope it is.

Rebecca said...

I haven't been able to enjoy anything but the lightest of entertainment since my father died right after I graduated college. And not only do I avoid reading articles about horrible things in reality, I don't read anything that's emotion-tugging even in a good way.

But you may want to consider watching the Olympic coverage with the sound off. That way, you won't know what's at stake with each performance.