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Thursday, 23 March 2017

The Downside of Adventure


It was two o'clock in the morning and a couple of decades ago when I responded to an infomercial advertising Private Investigation licenses. I called the 1800 number, got sent a bunch of course materials which I filled out basically at random, and received a license. What followed was a weird and disconnected set of adventures which taught me quite a bit of unpleasant stuff about human beings.

Most of it was me turning down surveillance jobs (I have always hated surveillance), or doing 'skip traces', which is where you find an address for somebody who's skipped out on rent or debts. But every now and then you'd get a weird one. I once got commissioned to find a girl who had disappeared from her family home. I initially recommended that they call the police, but they didn't want to for some reason. I mainly took the job because they cried at me a lot, and I was young and stupid back then.

It wasn't very hard. They gave me a list of phone numbers for her friends, and a couple of calls led me to a notorious heroin dealer who was known for his habit of building a harem of underage girls. I found his address by pretending to be a customer, visited to establish that she was there, put in my expenses, and made a report. The family then re-hired me to extract her, which was yet another job I should not have taken under any circumstances, but there was more crying, so I ignored my serious qualms about the parents' continuing refusal to call the police and took their money in advance. It's not much of an excuse, but I was also behind on my rent at this time.

So, I subcontracted a couple of my largest and angriest acquaintances and we lobbed up at the house only to find that this girl would basically go along with anyone who asked her to, and that the people in the house simply didn't give a toss. After a little while, she realised we were going to her family home and completely lost her mind. Turns out she had very firm reasons for leaving home. And that was us, on the horns of a dilemma.

I'd like to say that I did something virtuous and wise, but I didn't. I was young and dumb, so after politely refusing her offer to be a live-in girlfriend for one or all of us, we gave her all the loose money we had and dropped her off outside a bar somewhere, as per her request. As for her parents, I felt justified in taking their money and never speaking to them again.

The point of this grubby, depressing little story is that a life of adventure is not exactly a grand sweet song of new experiences and zany characters. I often encounter people who express varying degrees of envy for some of the stuff I've been and done, but I wonder if they're aware of just how much I'd prefer not to have filthy memories like this one. Or how much I envy their view of humanity, untainted as it is by real-life experience of the moral repugnance and evil that lies deep in the hearts of so many of us. And I wonder, as well, how I can so enjoy exactly the same qualities when filtered through the medium of Raymond Chandler prose, but not so much when it's happening in front of me in the real world.

Which leads me to a point which might seem completely random and unrelated, but bear with me. An aspect of this not very nice episode is the problem I have with reality television. Shows like Married at First Sight, or The Bachelor, are frankly disgusting to me, largely because I never lose sight of that line between fiction and reality. The fact of shows like this is that they allow people do delight in the suffering of others, to eviscerate, condemn, and judge, all through what seems to be a filter of entertainment, but isn't. These are real people. It's irrelevant that they volunteer - this fact should actually increase our compassion for their psychological frailty, but it doesn't for most. It's just another reason to sneer at them.

And worst of all, it's dishonest. The specious veil of 'television' provides sadistic thrills for the timid, bloodless violence for the squeamish, and psychosexual horror porn for those too cowardly to face the need for such in their own minds. Of course, that's not everyone. I suspect quite a lot of viewers are just too dim or too blinkered to see these shows as anything but some kind of amateur soap opera.

Well, it's not. All comedy and drama are the enjoyment of the trauma of others at a distance. That principle being true, the only morally acceptable comedy and drama are fictional.

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