Earlier today, in response to the coverage of the police shooting of Terrence Crutcher, activist and academy award winning actress Susan Sarandon tweeted the following:
Sarandon’s tweet highlights the failings of a vast amount of contemporary journalism, which places higher value on news stories that get the most traffic rather than importance to the national climate. In an increasingly violent world, we have become more and more desensitized to bloodshed unless it personally affects us. CNN’s prioritization of Brad and Angelina’s divorce over the police killing of and unarmed black man is not only journalistic irresponsibility, it is a direct reflection of our active dissociation and erasure of violence against others.
Sarah Kane’s Blasted, presented by Off the Grid Theatre Company at the Boston Center for the Arts, seeks to shock us back into our sense of empathy through the staging of incredibly violent acts. Infamous for its 1995 debut at the Royal Court Theatre Upstairs, Kane’s first play outraged critics and audiences alike. Set in a hotel room in Leeds, Ian, a middle-aged journalist attempts to seduce Cate, a much younger woman with epilepsy. After failing to do so, he sexually assaults during an epileptic episode. Afterwards, the play explodes into war, and a soldier enters the hotel room, assaults Ian and sucks his eyes out of their sockets.
Blasted draws parallels between singular violent acts an the atrocities of war. Kane critiques a culture in which people ignore crimes that don’t affect them, which in turn allows them to grow into full blown atrocities. Turning a blind eye exacerbates a culture of violence.
Why is Blasted so difficult to sit through? Why did those critics in 1995 hate it so much if it provided an accurate reflection of the world at large?
Because the audience is can’t escape, can’t dissociate unless they actively choose to walk out of the theatre.
Because I paid to be there.
I chose to be there.
Leaving the performance, I wonder, is it healthy for me or anyone else to witness such violence? Will confronting the atrocities of the world make me a more compassionate and loving member of the human race?
We’ll have to turn to Sarah Kane for the answer:
“Once you have perceived that life is very cruel, the only response is to live with as much humanity, humour and freedom as you can.”