Saturday, June 24, 2006

Generation X and Revolution

This is something I wrote a few years ago. It still strikes me as applicable to our society.

A commercial I have seen on TV recently: A shoe commercial with a loud and chaotic stream of angry, physically-absurd images with pictures of running shoes and the word DEFY over and over again:

Defy gravity!

Defy limitations!

Defy electricity!

Defy anything!

What a ridiculous lot of furious fools my generation is! And now they are using our fury to advertise shoes. We always want to raise a fist of angry revolt in the air. One must revolt in order to establish one's identity (a tradition we learned from our parent's generation). But we can't find much worth rebelling against. We are a nation of rich and unrestricted people, but still we must defy something. We must loose control of our passions and strike out against anyone who dares oppress us, but no one cares about us enough to oppress us, which infuriates us even more.

The ideal young revolutionary of our generation is like an uncaged animal that unleashes blind lust or fury at anything that nears it. What other kind of revolutionary could we expect in a world with nothing worth believing in? It is only the insightful revolutionaries who truly identify that hateful oppression they riot against. They recognize the oppressor within themselves, in their own unrestrained passions. What else to do but turn that limitless fury in on itself? So they unleash all fury on their own angry selves, often killing a schoolyard full of random classmates with them, creating a horror so beautiful and rebellious that the rest of us can only watch with awe and envy.

The school shooter is not an isolated phenomenon, he is the final product of the Revolution. But alas, most revolutionaries sell out too soon. Not many are willing to become martyrs for the cause. Instead we fade away into hedonism and self-loathing narcissism. Corporations harness the sentimentality of our fading revolution to sell us running shoes.

What a miserable generation of old people we will become! Not only did we sell out like past generations, but we didn't even know what we were trying to do. Our grandparents tried to create an orderly and decent society, and failed. Our parents were revolutionaries for peace and love, but they all sold out. And what about us? We gave ourselves over to every desire. We shook a defiant fist at everything and nothing. What was our revolution? What was our struggle? Perhaps we wanted to end up empty inside. If so, we may have been the first American generation ever to succeed in its struggle.

Thursday, June 22, 2006

Death and The Doctor

I had a lot of patients die recently and it was weighing heavily on my mind. It is interesting where your thoughts go when you sit down and start writing:

In the hospital again. Lots of death is always here. Watched a 2 year old girl whom I had delivered, slowly die. Nothing I tried worked. She faded right in front of me while her mother cried. For a while I had dreams about her. I would wake up frantically trying to save her only to realize the child had died a week before. Later on call, I ran a code on a woman for almost an hour. All her ribs broke. We shocked her again and again but nothing worked. Then the other day I sent a gentleman I have cared for several years to hospice. I always liked him, although he never cared for doctors. He said he was tired of treatments and check-ups and was ready to die.

Working in medicine is an odd job. I can think of no other role that brings one so close to death without any real danger involved. Soldiers or law enforcement put their own lives in danger in their jobs that involve for life and death, but the doctor or nurse almost never fears harm. Other than the occasional cold caught from a patient and being kicked by a drunk patient I have never experienced any physical harm or danger in medicine. Doctors are like the television-watchers who absorb violence after violence from the safety of a living room. We may struggle to save our patients or mourn them when they die, but in the end we are observers and not participants in the suffering we see. I wonder if it is healthy for the mind to see death so often and have no immediate threat of it to force fear in us?

I have often noticed that soldiers and police officers I encounter seem cool and distant, but their experience with death is different. They have known their own lives to be in danger. The modern hospital may be a unique place in society where those who intimately interact with life and death are immune to being harmed. (In some ways even literally immune; I get more vaccinations than the average person.)

I wonder if there are threads of voyeurism in our desire to help the suffering? It is a job that must be done, and we are proud of our opportunity to "help people," but we are not the ones who would be just as contented helping people from a distance or even helping those we might never see. We want to help from up close where the blood and crying is.

I didn't consciously recognize this in myself when I chose medicine as a career. However, I cannot deny that when I run to a code it is not only altruism that drives me. I want to be where the action is. I suppose this is the same instinct that keeps us glued to news broadcasts of wars and plane crashes.

There is something in us that seeks to watch death and suffering. Perhaps we seek catharsis—to somehow improve our souls by empathizing with the suffering of others. At least I hope it is reflection and improvement we seek.

Monday, June 12, 2006

"The New World"

I don't plan to make it a common occurrence to put my movie reviews on this blog. I want this blog to be about interesting ideas, and not just some random conglomeration of my personal tastes. That being said, however, I find this particular film so thought-provoking and such a powerful work of art that I feel comfortable discussing it here.

If you haven't seen "The New World" you really should watch it as soon as is possible. It is one of the most fascinating films I have ever seen, and perhaps the most beautifully filmed. I have seen it twice now. Like most films by Terrence Malick (director of “The Thin Red Line”) its depth and meaning grows with each viewing. This movie seems to have unfortunately suffered from its own advertising. Many people who went expecting a historical romance along the lines of "Braveheart," encountered a film so subtle and profound it didn't make sense to them. Reviews were mediocre. It floundered in theaters. (Most people expecting a comic strip might find a painting by Rembrandt disappointing.) And yet I would have to say this is the best film I have ever seen.

It has a subtle beauty and profound way of watching its characters that is unlike any film you have likely ever seen. There are only about 100 lines of dialog in the entire film. The rest is simply watching. Never has watching interactions or gestures of the characters reenacting history been so engrossing. The film only briefly plays with myths like the “noble savage” or the “welcoming Pocahontas” only to show its characters to be deeper and more complex imaginations that the audience must interpret themselves. It is always watching… watching the complex interplay of new cultures… watching the years pass… watching people rise and fall then rise again. Most of it has no words at all. (Not in the dull independent film way of watching people doing nothing and calling it art, but in a way that is obviously meaningful and understandable in spite of its depth.) It is told less like a narrative and more like the way someone might remember the events of their life. “The New World” is about people in the midst of great change. It will resound with tragedy and beauty long after the petty political dramas of this year’s Oscars are forgotten.

Watch this film with an open mind and you will find an artistic treasure well worth watching again and again.