Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Who Are We as the World Falls Down?

I know I'm a few weeks late with this reflection, but bear with me. I've been ruminating on this, so there's a reason it's been a bit late in coming.

Is anyone else fascinated by the idea that while S.H.I.E.L.D. falls to pieces, the rest of the world clicks along relatively normally? In the Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. episode "Nothing Personal," which takes place immediately after the events of the Captain America: Winter Soldier movie, the world isn't burning. People aren't running mad. Washington, D.C. looks pretty normal as Maria Hill walks the streets.

from Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., "Nothing Personal"

Cars seem to be following traffic laws, people are milling around and having what seems to be a pretty typical weeknight. It's astonishing to me that this could be the case. The hole left by a lack of S.H.I.E.L.D. is not leaving a wake of anarchy in the public at large, and that's a little mind-blowing as we witness the sky falling inside the organization as a whole.

While some people would write this off as an inconsistency, I don't think this is bad storytelling at all; quite the opposite, in fact. This indicates that while S.H.I.E.L.D. is the sun and moon to these people...while they believe that it's saving the may not actually be as vital on a day-to-day basis as the agents think it is. This is a subtle hint from the storytellers that chaos can be blooming for a group of people while the rest of the world clicks on without noticing. These people have to have seen the news reports of the battle only miles away from them, but they don't seem affected at all.

Mind you, Hydra is probably keeping order on the surface pretty well, too, partially because they've planned for this for six decades and partially because it's just generally good PR to put on a good face.

But this seems to me to be a really interesting parallel to the suffering of people in places like Syria or Turkey, or even in your own culture, for that matter. On a personal level, I remember when my mother-in-law died and everything in my world seemed upended. It was so disorienting to go to the grocery store and watch people do their business like nothing had happened...because nothing had happened to them. But worlds can burn for entire groups of people, and even the people who are aware of that chaos from the outside are largely unaffected by it and move on with barely a blink. Maybe there's a murmur of sympathy or a head that shakes in disbelief, maybe we even contribute money or other donations to the cause, but the world moves forward, insistent on grinding ahead mostly in business as usual mode while a column of smoke dissipates into the atmosphere in the near distance.

What does this say about human nature, for better or for worse? At best, it means we recover quickly and move on from tragedy and that we have a very strong instinct to rebuild even as things continue to fall apart, which is a part of how we've managed to survive as a species. At worst, it means that we can be massively tone deaf to the suffering our fellow human beings as cultures burn right under our noses, because on a subconscious level, we're afraid to dive in and be voluntarily exposed to that monstrosity. We don't believe it can happen, so we don't really see it. Sometimes the instinctual propensity toward survival is a horrific thing.

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