Thursday, July 22, 2010

The evil of banality

The parade of human history is littered with the faces of people who have done horrible things. Accompanied, as always, by the songs of the Greek Chorus; "he was so ordinary..." "you'd never have thought to look at him..." "he was a model neighbour..." Unremarkable people do remarkable things and they may be for evil as easily as for good. Perhaps more easily: "you'd never have thought to look at him..." could cover a multitude of sins. When they are brought to justice, by court or by history, even the worst of them turn out to be ordinary human beings. Crumpled, grey and empty. Even the most charismatic of them are rendered mute by the camera's eye, entirely missing that vital spark that sometimes only the photograph will reveal. The emptinesses of their existence drives them mad and makes them think they are God. And if God's existence can mean so little, why would the lives of lesser mortals pass mention? And so, unremarkable people do remarkable things. The grey bureaucrats of Kafka and Orwell strike terror and the parlours and morning rooms of genteel England are littered with the corpses of the stabbed and poisoned.

But we love our bit of terror.

Those sensationalist shocks and those lashings of the Grand Guignol. Those delightful moments of terror that give us our adrenalin rush safe from accompanying danger. We like our demons dressed up in the costumes of pantomime, our villains bedecked in hi-vis personae. We can hiss and boo with childish delight because it is safe to do so. We are the magpies chafing a passing cat: we know the danger and we know we are outside its reach.

But every so often...

The baying crowd gathered at the execution of the latest monster.

"Have your moment!" cried the monster. "Have your thrill! You cannot kill me! I am you!"


Anonymous said...

Well said.

Kevin Musgrove said...


RA said...

Amen! The human mind needs points of comparison. Especially those that make "me" feel safe, intelligent, rich, better than...
We look into the mirror merely to shave or put on make up.

Pat said...

Horrible thought.

Kane said...

I remember once reading that we cannot love or hate something unless that thing represents something we love or hate about ourselves.

But you know Kevin, some people are charismatic. Whether heroes or monsters, some of them are able to distinguish themselves from the rest of the crowd.

They are both ordinary and beyond ordinary; perhaps it is because they know how people tick, what we desire and how to exploit those desires.

Your writing, as always, is impeccable.


Scarlet Blue said...

It is true! I have mean thoughts too!
Thankfully I never do anything about them. Well, not often...

Kevin Musgrove said...

Thanks RA! I think the converse can also be true, and that both are dangerous when taken at face value.

(Who told you about my make up?)

Pat: I was in one of those "dwell ye not with monsters" moods. There's a lot happening at work.

Kane: it's often said, and there's a truth in it. Sometimes, though, it's the representation of a wish rather than a reality.

And yes, some people certainly are charismatic. It's interesting to see that sometimes the charisma is a function of the audience rather than the person. I've been fortunate to have the opportunity to see that a couple of times, which is to take absolutely nothing away from the people concerned.

Scarlet: I cannot believe for one moment that you could have a mean thought in your head. Well, not most of the month anyway.