I understand the need for comfort when settling in for some time reading and can see clearly that the importance of comfort for anyone being read a story is equally as vital. I’m sure we can all imagine the sheer delight of a fidgety child while we’re trying to keep them still to listen to what is being said.
But should we always be comfortable when we read a story?
Horror stories are the first port of call and it’s easy to see that they need to be unsettling and scary but is that the only place that we get to unveil the really uncomfortable things?
I’ve come to this consideration thanks to the radio.
Recently, on a very mundane journey home from work, Something Inside So Strong by Labi Siffri started playing. A good song from 1987 which, thanks to the wonders of Wikipedia, I can tell you, peaked at number four in the UK charts. Now that doesn’t really make anyone think anything. Those facts are nothing more than nuggets of information and you can nod your head as you register the facts, and then you’re on with the rest of your day.
But there is a great deal more to the song.
Labi Siffri penned the song after watching a TV documentary on Apartheid in South Africa where white soldiers were seen shooting at black civilians. The lyrics he wrote conveyed a message of steadfast resistance to the horrors of the inequality in South Africa but that resistance would come in a non-violent form of just being more than those looking to grind people down.
The song was an easily accessible route for the world to be exposed to what was happening in another country and for the world to take notice. The song, as with any and all others, formed a plank which a wider understanding was then built upon. People were then able to make their voices heard about a brutalising topic which seems to be very much at odds with the usually relaxed and cheerful lands of the popular music charts. By using a medium not usually associated with such things, a message was passed on.
Now this isn’t the only example of the music industry making comment on social issues. Band Aid being possibly the greatest example but there have been many more examples where a serious topic is used as a focus for a narrative. Sunday Bloody Sunday by U2 was aimed at the Troubles from Northern Ireland, Bruce Springsteen never ducked away from a controversial topic but music wasn’t alone.
Sport had the international boycott of teams playing in South Africa and everyone is familiar with the raised, gloved fist salute of Tommie Smith and John Carlos during the 1968 Olympics.
In each of these examples, an uncomfortable point is made directly within the belly of a situation where it isn’t expected. The viewer / listener will be caught off guard by the subject matter and suddenly they are forced to acknowledge a truth they may not be happy to. After their gloved protest in Mexico, the two US sprinters received death threats and the IOC were more concerned with the potential breach of it’s rules on political statements rather than the racism it was highlighting.
Those kind of statements should be kept away from sport / music / film etc. This isn’t the forum for your political views. After an event of statement like the above the world is regularly then treated to all kind of talking heads pointing out that someone had gone too far or that sporting events or music shouldn’t be used in this way.
If it happens all of the time, the effect is watered down, everyone knows what’s coming. By making people uncomfortable, by shining a stark light on an issue without any kind of warning, you can shock the reality into the eyes of so very many more people. Yes you’re going to make people angry in some cases and there will be more than a little chance that fingers will get pointed at you as being irresponsible or callous but that is often the best way to cross the lines a great many people refuse to cross on their own.
In the best way imaginable, long live the discomfort.