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While reading the “mess” of seemingly-random narratives in Atrocity Exhibition, I was niggled by some sort of psychological conflict happening within the text but couldn’t pinpoint it. Moreover, I became depressed. It’s funny, though. Seeing–well, reading–the bizarre, debauched scenes made me realize just how sheltered I really am in relation to the world around me. It’s like (as a classmate pointed out in lecture today) waking up from a nightmare but realizing that nightmare still persists.

Professor Pulizzi pointed out that one of the running themes of Atrocity Exhibition is the perverse fascination with celebrities. Travis/Talbert/Talbot’s freakish obsession with recreating the assassination of JFK shows a twisted side of celebrity culture. Celebrity figures seem to be “gods” whom the masses worship, but ironically they are victims because of such “worship”. The famous person does not have real power because his/her rise or fall is dictated by the common people through continuous consumption of media like billboards, magazines, and the computer screen. Suddenly I think of the Kardashians (or, as my fellow Yahoo-ers like to say, “Kartrashians”). A netizen reads the latest scandal involving Kim and thinks, “Ha! What a loser!” With just that thought, they gain the advantage. In other words, the one who watches on the sidelines has power.

This is a sort of voyeurism, like how a peeping tom feels a sense of domination over the person he is watching. In fact, at times the observer does have control over the situation. I remember the 2009 Richmond High School gang rape, in which a 15-year-old girl was repeatedly raped by a group of young men during a school event. What disturbed me most was the reaction of the onlookers: only two intervened while the rest did nothing. This is true for highway accidents as well, in the form of “rubberneck” drivers who mechanically turn their heads to stare at the carnage. I can’t help but think that, underneath the shock and disgust, those people might actually feel an odd satisfaction in comparing their own luck/good fortune with the unfortunate. Bystanders not only victimize, but ultimately turn the victim into a sacrifice for their perverse “entertainment”.

Ballard points out just how depraved people can become through this “bystander effect”. For instance, in the segment “Crash”, his characters are sexually aroused by the violence and death in car accidents.  But they’re not the only ones. In the show America’s Funniest Home Videos, the crowd laughs every time a person trips slapstick-style into the swimming pool or catapults off a bike that had smacked into a tree. I also remember the episode “The Playground” from The Ray Bradbury Theater. In the final scene, the main character is being bullied while the other children do nothing but jeer. As they laugh, their faces become distorted, inhuman. Demonic.

A monster hides inside every one of us.

-Lena Chew

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