Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Art Imitates Life - Or Is It The Other Way Around?

A very much appraised novelist, Jodi Picoult specializes in carefully-woven stories where the main protagonists are oftentimes youths. "Youths" yes - as Joe Pesci would say it... A month before the sad events at Virginia Tech, a tale that she had penned -a disturbing tale revolving around a High School shooting indeed- was published in the USA. A mere few days after the V.T. tragedy, that book was published in the U.K. - which made literatis raise their eyebrows in disbelief at the bad timing displayed by the publisher...

"The school shooter is walking a very fine line between killing himself and taking other people with him."
- Jodi Picoult

Jodi Picoult herself could be accused of something like "prophetic bad taste mired in the poorest timing of all" - but that would be easily undone by the literary merit she has earned among the connaisseurs and critics alike.

Also, one must not champion the cause of censorship - every and any subject can and should be tackled in works of fiction, be it the written word or no matter what medium is used. A fictional account, slightly romanticized, makes the masses aware of events and causes they might have completely missed otherwise. Nonetheless, there are ways to do it - there is a time for everything and everything has its place and time (to paraphrase the Turtles' poetry) and said timing is of the essence. Also, one cannot not see that, no matter what form it takes, the shooting spree subject always leave a very bad taste no matter where it's been tackled, broached or explored:

Novels include We Need To Talk About Kevin (Lionel Shriver)
Songs include Rival (Pearl Jam), The Good Die Young (Tupac Shakur) and I Don't Like Mondays (Boomtown Rats)
Films include Elephant and Heart of America
And Michael Moore's Bowling for Columbine documentary

Ultimately, only a news-reporting approach is truly acceptable; and that is why Michael Moore's documentary was so well-received and Jodi Picoult's book, especially on its date of release, can only raise eyebrows...



Blogger Luminous (\ô/) Luciano ™ said...

Source article:

Death in the classroom
By Georgina Pattinson
BBC News

A student sits in the rain next to a memorial stone for her friend at Virginia tech
Mourning lost lives at Virginia Tech
Virginia Tech, Columbine,

The big question after every such shooting is why - a question novelists, filmmakers and songwriters seek to answer. Why does this crime resonate?

Just days after Virginia Tech student Cho Seung-hui took his own life after gunning down 32 others, Jodi Picoult's latest novel was published in the UK. In a somewhat uncomfortable coincidence, Nineteen Minutes tells the story of a high school shooting.

Queen of the bestseller lists and book clubs, Picoult typically grabs challenging subjects with relish. She is not the first to tackle the phenomenon of campus killings - so too did the novelists DBC Pierre with Vernon God Little, and Lionel Shriver with We Need To Talk About Kevin, and there are films, pop songs and documentaries aplenty.

But what is it about this crime that inspires art?

Perhaps because we are so horrified - and fascinated - by the poignancy of young lives cruelly snuffed out. And a work of fiction seeks to get inside the unknowable mind of the killer - we want to know what turns a loner into a monster.

And perhaps it is because it could happen to us. "It's not because we're immune: it's because we're lucky. It can happen anywhere at any time and I think there's that constant fear, even if we don't want to admit it to ourselves," Picoult says.

In Nineteen Minutes, 17-year-old Peter Houghton kills 10 and injures 19 of his fellow pupils. He is lonely and bullied, his self-esteem whittled away from the first day he goes to school. He is a sensitive boy who represents something "other" to the brash, hostile students around him. He is smaller than average, intelligent and tortured.

From bullied to bully

Picoult is anxious to make clear that there are differences between her fiction and what happened at Virginia Tech (a topic on which she is now well versed, her book having been published in the US a month before the shootings). Peter, for instance, does not exhibit the disturbed behaviour that Cho's teachers and fellow students noted.

Virginia shootings
The book asks what might have stopped Peter picking up that gun? His parents torture themselves with desperate questions; the local detective suffers pangs of conscience.

But the average stroppy adolescent will - at some point - look like a school shooter. There's no answer to why a kid on the margins should become a murderer.

"When you have a history of being chronically bullied, three things happen," Picoult says. "You either deal with it - you're strong enough to deal with it - and you go on to become a very productive member of society; you take it out on yourself, the violence becomes self-directed; or you take your rage out on someone else.

"And even then, most psychiatrists will tell you that the school shooter is walking a very fine line when he walks into that school - between killing himself and taking other people with him."

While researching Nineteen Minutes, she saw a tape in which Columbine killer Eric Harris is shoved to one side as he walks down the school corridor.

"He doesn't even react," she says. "The psychiatrist said [it shows] it's so common for him he didn't have to react."

Set text

Nineteen Minutes is now being taught in high schools and Picoult discusses the book with teenagers who tell her that they know people just like Peter. "They see him every day. They understand this."

Picoult - who was herself bullied at school, and had three fingers broken in a locker - dedicates Nineteen Minutes to those who are a "little bit different, a little bit scared, a little bit unpopular". She adds that empathising with a victim of bullying is not the same as sympathising with a killer.

"There's still a difference between a child who's fixated on violence and a child who just doesn't fit in," she says. "The minute the victim picks up a gun he becomes the biggest bully of all."

In the wake of these horrors, there is always a rash of copycat threats. "Because this is happening in every school - it's not just Virginia Tech, and guess what? It's not just Cho. It's everywhere. You've got to start looking at how you defuse that bomb before someone even lights the fuse."


11:52 AM  
Blogger Luminous (\ô/) Luciano ™ said...

Having said all I said, I'll rate Jodi Picoult much higher than J.K. Rowling - even though both of them have similar TERRIBLE tastes for picking a subject...

In my book, they both do - yes.

11:55 AM  

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