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01:00 pm: Is dark “Realism” realistic? Or, Moments of Grace…
For years, I have not liked dark, gritty, ‘realistic’ stories, but for the longest time I could not put my finger on why. I mean the kind of thing where there’s no hope, everything is covered in dirt, and terrible things are happening one on top of another like a stack of pancakes. Sometimes, these stories have a lot of blood or sex, sometimes not.
Friends would say, “Oh, I understand, they are too dark for you.” Or “They don’t bother me, I don’t find them scary.” But that did not seem to put into words the impression I suffered when reading/watching such stories. I wasn’t scared. Something else bothered me.

Finally, one day last year, the answer came to me:  I don’t find them realistic. The more “realistic” the story, the less realistic it strikes me. Why? Because they lack moments of Grace.
Let me explain what I mean. Last spring, during the period when I was discussing this, a friend’s father-in-law died. This was a very sad thing. My friend had been very close to him, and his passing devastated her and shook her family. It was as if they lost a mainstay that kept them going and, on top of this, they had new responsibilities to take care of the mother-in-law, who had been cared for by the father-in-law.
I was not able to attend the funeral, as I was out of town, but what I remember from the descriptions I hear of it when I returned was the looks on the faces of the people who had gone when they talked about him…the light in their faces. Again and again, I heard how they had not realized until the funeral how wonderful this man had been. The experience touched their lives and made them better for it.

The death of this man was a terrible and sad thing, but it brought to our lives a moment of grace.
I have read stories of soldiers in the battlefield suffering terrible conditions, yet often these stories are accompanied by moments of grace…moments when someone rose above their ordinary circumstance to do something generous, something caring, something brave, sometimes even something extraordinary, but not always. Sometimes these moments of grace are small things…but they are small things that stick in the minds of those who experience them.
What is missing from dark, “realistic” stories, in my humble opinion, are moments of grace – moments of hope, those precious moments when we see the silver light of Heaven shining against the clouds of despair. In real life, when things get bad, that is when we are called upon to rise beyond our narrow view of ourselves and exhibit moments of grace. In real life, one can always find signs of hope, if one is willing to look.
What I don’t like about dark, “realistic” works is that they are stories about people who are not willing to look for hope, and that strikes me as unrealistic.


[User Picture]
Date:June 25th, 2007 06:28 pm (UTC)
I think that concept is what exemplifies Les Miserables for me. I mean, if you want to talk about a dark realism, that could almost be the template. Yet, contained within that story are the moments where people stand out beyond themselves. Not all, some never do. Some fall, and continue only to fall. But you have great moments where even those who would be quite selfish do extraordinary things beyond what you would expect of them.

[User Picture]
Date:June 25th, 2007 09:40 pm (UTC)
You know, I was getting ready to jump on my high horse and defend darker fiction, until you said almost exactly what I was planning on saying.

My fondness for darker stories is due, in part, to the fact that "moments of grace" truly, truly shine in the dark.

In Star Trek, the characters do amazing, selfless things constantly, and with few exceptions (namely, Spock sacrificing himself) those actions just vanish; there's no relief, nothing to set them against. When Spock dies, it is in a darker, more "realistic" ST narrative.

Compare to some of the dark SF series: selfless actions in Babylon 5 stand out. More so in the new Battlestar Galactica. Why? Because when Sharon saves the lives of the people who hate her, and have abused her, she is seperating herself from the muck, from the grime around her. She set herself apart.

And then we have the darkness without hope: Say, the Maltese Falcon. It's greed and corruption; Sam Spade is a bastard, through and through. I have a much stronger preference for The Big Sleep's Philip Marlowe; even surrounded by corruption, he is capable of rising above it, rather than becoming part of it the way Spade does.

[User Picture]
Date:June 25th, 2007 09:52 pm (UTC)
Hearty agreement, here. I decided some time ago that "gritty and realistic" should translate as "unrelentingly depressing". I just don't have use for the despair and death without the silver lining.
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