It’s times like these, when tragedy and devastation are felt so fully as they are right now in Japan, that my interests and passions seem irrelevant. Film, literature, music—in the wake of so many deaths, how can such pastimes be anything more than passing indulgences?
This is the gut response, and it isn’t entirely misplaced. After all, for those in the midst of such turmoil, the hot topics of pop literature or the current status of some city’s most treasured indie darling is of no importance.
Out of respect for the current crisis in Japan, some might think it a good idea to keep the A&E stuff on the down low. And in our world of excess, that’s not an entirely bad idea. Yet I hesitate to cast away these old friends (even if only temporarily), though the reason and justification to do so are there.
The trouble, as I see it, lies in how arts and entertainment, and pop culture in general, is often portrayed: as something to be embraced when seeking escape. In other words, when I read a book, view a film, or listen to music, I’m really pulling away from the real world, taking time out to relax by disengaging with society—or so the story goes. In light of current events, that kind of withdrawal seems selfish and unhelpful, especially when so many are in need of help.
But the best of arts and entertainment do more than amuse; indeed, the best confronts and engages us with the struggles and torments (as well as the delights and joys) of being human. Think of them as tools, if you like, that aid us in better understanding and more fully engaging with those around us. Some times, these “tools” can help in our recovery from tragedy, such as the tragedy that’s recently struck Japan.
I’m not suggesting that, instead of donating money, we send the Japanese people copies of Dostoyevsky’s Crime and Punishment or film reels of the latest Montreal art-house flick. Nor am I suggesting that it’s okay for us to carry on with our various evening pastimes and ignore the troubles facing our friends and family across the Pacific.
But once the waters have receded, and Japan begins to rebuild, those pastimes that I am so passionate about will offer more than mere escapism. Japan will not be rebuilt upon the pages of great literature; however, that literature, or film, or music will play a part (even if only a small one) in healing the heart of the many communities that were devastated these past few days.
It is for that very reason that I remain so invested in these so called pastimes. Their affect may be small, but it is felt nonetheless. And in these trying times, every little bit counts.
Rowing For Pleasure is a weekly opinions column written by Z S Roe. Please leave a comment or question—all opinions are welcome, and all contributions are greatly appreciated. If you like what you read here, please subscribe.