La Mort de l’empathie

There are a number of reasons a person would brand an anime, or any television show in general, as a good show. If you know me, I tend to value shows that teach important lessons about life and society, even if they don’t mean to. As of late, I have been focusing on a long-time running series called Detective Conan. This show first aired in Japan in 1996 and has been airing since, due to its loyal fan base. (500+ Episodes!) I have a special appreciation for old series such as Detective Conan and Star Trek because the show provides a window into the mindset, values, and concerns of the past. Starting at episode one, as I watched Detective Conan, I began to notice a trend that I thought I might have been imagining.

When I watch shows that aired during a different time period, I try to place myself in the shoes of the average viewer during that time period. Despite the fact that 1996 wasn’t too far back since the time of this posting, I have learned that society and technology travel at a blinding speed– we just do not notice because we are caught up in the ride. (Think of it like standing on a moving train!) At any rate, for some time, I began to suspect that our society is becoming more crass and irreverent, with one of the signs being a lesser level of respect for the dead. Now, of course, Detective Conan did not come out and whisper this in my ear, but to explain my reasoning, it is important to discuss the nature of the show, in case you are not aware.

As you have probably deduced by now, Detective Conan is a mystery series. While the main storyline is not relevant to this post, the gist of the series is that every episode, there is a crime committed (usually a murder) which Edogawa Conan usually ends up solving. While this pattern seems fairly generic, this show separates itself from Scooby-Doo by thoroughly exploring the crime, evidence, people, and most importantly, the deduction. Indeed, a key portion of the episode is often spent exploring the victims’/suspects’ lives and habits. Understandably, during the exposition, one begins to anticipate that a murder of some sort is about to happen to a point that they are simply waiting to see… Who dies? The victims’ personalities vary from episode to episode– some are innocent bystanders, some are killed as a misunderstanding, some were kind hearted individuals killed in cold blood, and some… Are the filthiest, most arrogant jerks to have walked the planet.

If this were a recent television show, I would think that the screenwriter meant for the final type of character listed above to be hated to a point that the viewer was hoping he dies; that is, we would hope such a thing because we know that someone is about to die so we hope it would be him. Admittedly, I too have found myself silently rooting for murderer during these moments, but after finishing such episodes, I felt a little guilty for doing so. A possible explanation is that the creator treated the death of this person as a tragedy for the sake of teaching the children watching the show a lesson about how the situation should be handled. I do not believe this to be the case however, partly due to gut feeling and partly by taking the time period into account.

One of the signs of higher level thinking is reverence for the dead and thoughts about the afterlife. When anthropologists study the precursors of humans such as Homo neanderthalensis, they note the development of higher-level thinking when they find the existence of tools and burial. The point is, honoring the dead is a very fundamental trait expressed not only in “intelligent” life forms such as humans and chimpanzees, but also in more domestic animals such as cats. During the 1990’s and before, death in society was considered a very religious and delicate issue. Action films at the time largely consisted of killing aliens/monsters, with the death of a human usually grounds for a devastating or sacrificial ending. At the time, one’s exposure to the news of death was also lower with the Internet yet a fledgling and cable TV an expensive commodity. If one fast forwards to today, everyone has access to death tolls, obituaries, and sob stories on their phones. Public television often depicts a higher level of violence than before, children have access to violent video games, and accidental deaths are often placed on sites similar to Youtube.

…And yet, it is no one’s fault.

I’m not blaming violent video games, gory action films, or overzealous news reporters. The fact of the matter is that we are still animals whether we think of ourselves or not– animals with primal instinct. There are a lot more things we do based on instinct that we would think, simply since we have built our society around them. Take toilets for one: We have them cause we don’t like to look/smell that stuff despite the fact that it would be better for vegetation without them (and more convenient for us to go wherever). Or take another example: condoms. (Hey, who said the human race was pretty?) Condoms are advocated as a form of birth control to the point that it is fairly common, if not expected of the male, to put on a condom before sexual activity. Is this the power of evolution? Nope, it’s society building itself around its instincts.

What I’m saying is that such things happen without us noticing. It is a slow process of desensitization and accommodation that takes place in a way that feels natural to us after a while. Indeed, I, among with others, often feel little when I hear of a plane crash or another statistical death toll. However, you can bet the general public will react very strongly to a news coverage that ends in finding a dead body after carefully tracking a kidnapping case for months. I stress many times to myself and my readers to not be sheep. I just find the prospect of being controlled by popular opinion, emotion, or television a very dishonorable way to live. In these cases, I urge people to take a step back and reconsider the situation from different angles to the best of your ability after you have been given time to “cool down,” since one can often think more clearly without such stimuli. If such desensitization toward something as universal as death increases, what will happen then? Only people who realize things like this are happening are able to resist it.

I clearly remember the book Farenheit 451 because of its accuracy in portraying human nature. Farenheit 451 is a light novel written by Ray Bradbury, first published in 1951. As a “futuristic” novel, it was set in dystopian America where books/free speech was banned. The interesting thing about the book was the various technologies Bradbury presented in it, such as the video walls (like televisions, but your entire wall would display the image, sometimes including all the walls in the room) and seashell ear-tamp radios (shells you would put in your ear to hear the radio). Well if you look around today, we have big screen televisions and ear buds. A fluke? I think Bradbury was extrapolating humanity’s tendency to get absorbed in entertainment to a point of integrating it with themselves. Even more disturbing however, is the way people were portrayed in Bradbury’s dystopia. Little children were often seen as nuisances that were often left in the video rooms so that they would not annoy anyone. As such, when they got older, they often behaved recklessly since no one reprimanded them, to the point of trying to run people over in the streets because it is considered “fun.” Of course, in their eyes, why would it not be fun? In Bradbury’s dystopia, when a death was confirmed or imminent, they are quickly taken to a giant landfill so no one has to see them and can be quickly forgotten. Sounds like a classic example of a “solution” humanity has came up with to “deal” with the bad feelings associated with death.

Now I know that I am mixing fiction with reality, but the part that bothers me is that I can see it happening. Especially in the United States. In this day in age, things like Atheism are rampant because people don’t like to do things that, to put simply, don’t make them feel good. I worry about the United States because the general population is often so big-headed because of its past and lifestyle, that they underestimate the need to protect it.

In Detective Conan, no matter who dies, the ordeal is always treated as a tragedy– and it is a tragedy. Think of what the families must go through, think of the emotions of those who witnessed the death, think of the time it takes to grow up, and most importantly, think about how quickly that can be destroyed. I think that in the past, we understood this better, or at least more readily, and that we would be doing a disservice to ourselves if we do not pause to consider our actions from time to time. One of the main characters in Detective Conan is a very dull and dim-witted character named Mouri. In an emotional scene following a case that he actually solved himself, the killer states that Mouri “[could not] understand” the position he was in which drove him to kill. Mouri’s response, despite the killer’s justifications, was swift and to the point: “You’re right. I don’t understand. No matter what the reason is, I could never understand what drives people to kill.”


Still quiet

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