I was fifteen.
It was a foggy morning. One of those mornings that carries a tinge of spooky with it, especially since it just happened to be Halloween. Cue the spooky music and decorations. I was in the front living room as a bowl of thick, sticky oatmeal harboring a melting pat of butter warmed my hands. Two bay windows overlooked the front yard. While watching the thick, rolling fog I imagined the end of the world had drawn near and that maybe I didn’t have to go to school that day.
Suddenly, I saw movement in the ditch near the road. It wasn’t uncommon for squirrels or raccoons to be hanging out there. But it was blue. Most animals aren’t blue. I told my mother as she took a sip of coffee. She told me to go look. We figured it would just be a scarecrow dumped in the ditch because of Devil’s night. There were many children in the neighborhood and pranks were common.
I crept slowly up the driveway. The fog was thick as ever and felt like it was pushing me back, trying to save me from something. As I neared I heard a gurgling sound. I thought maybe it was a tape of scary sounds. Then I saw a blue leg wearing thick white sock. The leg shook a little. Closer. Closer. I saw a man’s head bent the wrong way.
I moved closer.
The body jerked. Death rattle. I froze. He froze.
I ran away, screaming for my mother.
It wasn’t my first death but it was very personal. It was the first death I experienced firsthand. It was real and it was shocking. I will never forget that moment.
Shock and awe gets ‘em talking around the watercooler.
Recently, I’ve seen a lot of media using shock to elicit audience response. I see it in news, advertisements, movies, music, and television. Shock and awe is memorable. But it moves focus away from the real story.
It’s a lot like special effects which need to be used to progress the story, not to impress. It’s the same with story. If shock doesn’t have direct impact on the characters and story then it should disappear. Shock needs to exist for a greater reason. At this point, so much of the shock I see and hear about appears to be fan service and accomplishes nothing to progress the story or further character development. I admit, it is wonderful to be struck silent by something. It shows us our limits. Or does it expand them? Because the next time you may not be shocked. We’ll always need more.
It’s gotten to the point that all people talk about any more is shock. Characters and story get thrown aside to the benefit of shock. Shock is an access point available to many people because it acts on our physiology rather than our psychology and provides an experience to live vicariously. But it is not a suitable substitute for the real experience.
Shock is a valuable tool but it needs to spent wisely. Take a step back once you recover from shock next time and evaluate why it shocked you. Not just why it shocked you, but also why, or if, shock was intended.
Every day in a new culture shocks and awes. Every day away from your native culture creates new shock and awe. Cultivate awareness and harvest the benefits.