by Joshua Hilst
Transcription by Joshua C. Hilst
As a father of a four year old, I find myself singularly impacted by this project. The author sets out to tell the story of so many children affected by sexual abuse, and attempts to issue a call to us as viewers to help stop such abuse.
The French philosopher Henri Bergson conceptualized a term he called fabulation, which is often taken as “myth-making.” But as John Mullarkey in some of his recent scholarship has suggested, fabulation is an account of much more. Mullarkey suggests that Bergson’s fabulation “is connected to the ‘paradox of fiction,’ to the problem of why we feel real emotions for unreal (fictitious) people and the events that befall them. The answer from Bergson is that fiction makes events (and the people involved in events) come alive for us, not just in make-believe, but at a very present and real (though primitive) level of our perception. And filmed fiction is an exemplary instance of this make-believe, because it exploits one of the main conditions necessary for such a ‘willing suspension of disbelief,’ namely movement” (Life, Movement and the Fabulation of the Event 54). Fabulation connects to something very elementary, very primal, in our nature and the ways in which we perceive the world. I find myself unable to extract this video from the ways in which I perceive my own child, my desire to protect her, and keep her safe.
The piece does largely derive its power from its appeal to pathos. As a kind of descriptio, or the explanation of an act’s consequences, it is meant to produce in us powerful feelings, perhaps even a powerful sense of indignation, which leads to our own action—along the lines of aganactesis, an exclamation that arises from deep indignation. The piece enacts a decidedly deliberative rhetoric, seeking action from its audience. Of course, one of the ends of deliberative rhetoric is what Aristotle called the good and the unworthy. In this case, we identify with the good, the children, on our way to condemning that which is unworthy, those who prey on defenseless children. In this sense they are deeply effective. However, with the goal of the piece being action, my only concern is that our path to action, the webpages cited at the end, almost become an afterthought.
In this example, the authors have made an excellent use of movement, but movement closer to a time-lapse or even stop-motion form of animating images by allowing us to see the construction of the project. Using what Scott McCloud calls amplification through simplification, we are made to identify with these little children, and the viewpoint we share with them is a sort of preternatural view of the world. Using simplified line drawings, the authors take McCloud’s advice when he writes that, “by stripping down an image to essential ‘meaning’ an artist can amplify that meaning.” In other words, why is it that some of the most effective images are also some of the least “realistic”? Moreover, why is it that when we look at a light socket, we can see a face? Because less is more, quite simply. In seeing the simplicity of the drawings, we identify more readily with the characters, the prince and the princess. In the simplistic rendering of this particular child, we can identify with all of the children subjected to such abuse.
“The little girl knew that the monster crept in the night”
Furthermore, rather than see what “we adults” know to be the case, we see the way the children might view the situation, and we see it through the simplified drawing style, which appears to start in pencil, before moving on to painting in broad strokes. Color encroaches upon her figure, leaving her in increasingly confined spaces, before blotting her out altogether. Intriguingly, the use of color is almost entirely to convey negative mood, as the initial drawings are all rendered in black and white. Perhaps the suggestion is that the increase in detail suggests an increase in knowledge, and the coincident loss of innocence. Of course, we are left precisely without any sense of closure, which seems very much in keeping with the intent of the piece.
If I have any other concerns for the piece, they would almost exclusively regard the use of sound. The laughter at the beginning of the piece becomes a tad cloying after about the 30-second mark. Pathos is a wonderful and useful rhetorical appeal. Aristotle had his reservations about it, suggesting that in a perfect world, we could stay with simply logical appeals. However, he was good enough to deign to us and to explore the ways in which emotion could appeal to the audience. Here the emotion is inextricable from the argument itself.
The authors have done wonderful work here, blending emotion with a solidly grounded appeal. They have layered very sound technique with [strong] characterization to produce a winning argument. The simplicity of the drawing only amplifies its effectiveness, and they draw us in to the piece to create an identification with these children. There is little question that they create a moving little piece here, one which I hope will be an effective tool for a valuable cause that needs it.
Mullarkey, John. “Life, Movement and the Fabulation of the Event” Theory, Culture & Society (2007) 24.6: 53-70.
McCloud, Scott. Understanding Comics: The Invisible Art. New York: Harper. 1994.
Henri Bergson. http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Henri_Bergson.jpg. Accessed 3-10-2010.