Wednesday, April 10, 2013

"Syria Behind the Lines"

When I was a kid and learning to write, my mother once observed, "If you want to write a story about boredom, you can't be boring."

Last night I watched a documentary entitled "Syria Behind the Lines." It was presented on "Frontline," one of the few television news programs that comes anywhere near to living up to the word "news" in my book. There is a thoughtfulness to its offerings. It is not in the sound-bite business. I didn't really want to watch "Syria Behind the Lines," but I couldn't stop watching.

To depict the war in Syria, a culture laced with a love of and devotion to family, Frontline picked an area divided by a river. On one side were tribal Alawites, a longtime ruling minority in the country; on the other were Sunnis -- a more populous group. Everyone looked pretty much the same ... nut-brown, with dark, serious eyes and a hodge-podge of clothing that included T-shirts emblazoned with peppy English slogans. I really had a hard time keeping the characters straight. Like people everywhere, those on either side of the river were sincere. They longed for peace and were in the inescapable business of killing each other. Seriously ... i-n-e-s-c-a-p-a-b-l-e.

A young man with a newly-grown beard explained with a bright and reasonable and far from fanatic tone that he hoped to become a martyr -- someone who died in an anointed cause. Later in the show, he (I think) would lie bloodied on a makeshift bed. He couldn't move one arm. There was shrapnel in his chest and head and "they can't get it out." Later still, he would return to the fighting.

No one complained or when they did complain, they were shushed, as for example a boy of about twelve who wailed inconsolably that his grandparents had just been buried in a house struck by a shell. The boy wailed and wailed. A young man cradled the boy's head against his chest. But still the boy kept wailing. Finally, a bearded man who seemed to be in his forties, turned his fury on the boy. Approximately he screamed, "Will someone shut that kid up?! Get him the fuck out of here!" The man was profoundly angry.

Every village street was on its way to becoming rubble ... bits and pieces of shelter dotting the mounds of rock and detritus all around. People who had fled the cities in hopes of safety in country villages moved on yet further. Mothers could not protect their children. People begged for bread. The fields were full of rotting food. Everyone listened for the jets or watched the rockets against a night sky ... rockets coming for them. Moment by moment they awaited death and yet were keenly alive. Which was more hellish -- the fact that they wept or the fact that they did not weep?

On a flatbed truck, a man of perhaps 40 hunkered down in the company of three dead bodies -- three of six family members who had been killed just minutes before. The man stared but did not weep. A close-up of one of the dead bodies showed that this man too was staring ... but the light had gone out.

How does anyone depict a scene that has no edges, where everything just is what it is and there is no escape? For my money, Frontline failed in that story-telling regard and in that failure succeeded beyond all story-telling dreams.

This was a world that lacked any other options, a world in which martyrdom made perfectly good sense, a world in which my tidy and cosseted moralities were shown for the juvenile bullshit they were. The liberal ain't-it-awful's or hope-springs-eternal ... "will someone shut that kid up?!" It was beyond the cozy distances of calling it "insane." It was a world in which "there is no god but god" and no one is so stupid or self-important as to name or circumscribe that god. No one wastes his breath saying "Fuck your morality! Fuck your beliefs! Fuck your philosophies! Fuck your stories!" There are no edges here ... there is no "here" here ... where once there were empty hands, there is no emptiness. Nothing is left to be "bereft" and since that is so, being "bereft" is just another luxury item for lackadaisical story tellers. Good and bad are cotton candy for not-terribly-bright kids.

I hated it -- watching this Frontline story that could not tell a coherent story because coherence would not only be untrue, it would be boring. My desire to understand and find meaning and put a seductive period on a conclusive sentence was utterly thwarted. My mewling moralities played no role. Take your "hell" and "heaven" and stick 'em where the sun don't shine!

About like any other moment of this life.

I will try to be as good as I can and pray to any gods there may be that I will never imagine it is good.

That would truly be boring.

No comments:

Post a Comment