Weekly musings on the arts and current events.

Saturday, April 2, 2011

The Madding Crowd's Ignoble Strife

Two senseless attacks, within hours of each other, 7500 miles apart. A mob of religious fanatics in Afghanistan, incensed over the burning of a Koran by a publicity seeking crackpot in Florida, attacked a United Nations compound, (apparently unable to distinguish the UN from the US), and killed everyone they could lay their hands on. In Los Angeles, two Dodgers fans attacked some Giants fans leaving one in a coma. The Afghanistan incident is not over; there was more violence today. The Los Angeles perpetrators are still at large, but it is likely they will be caught.

Kurt Vonnegut, in his novel Cat's Cradle, gave a name to the false associations people make with one another: granfalloon. The example he gave was "Hoosiers" as if people from Indiana shared some exclusive insight or destiny. Using a Calypso riff, he wrote: "If you wish to study a granfalloon, just remove the skin of a toy balloon." At their most benign, granfalloons are nothing more than fan clubs or Facebook friendships. At their worst, they're mobs.

Among the many features the two current examples have in common is that each dishonors the values the perpetrators claim to espouse. Mob violence is the self-aggrandisement of people who are otherwise empty, insignificant, and impotent.

Hieronymous Bosch felt the same way about the mob that rejoiced in the Crucifixion. How did the death of an obscure rabbi enhance their lives? What wrong were they righting? Bosch painted this scene twice before, but with less vitriol. We don't know much about him or his life, but clearly he was no stranger to cynicism in his later years.

With America at war in three countries that hate us, it's harder not to give in to such cynicism each passing day.

The Carrying of the Cross by Hieronymous Bosch, ca. 1510. Note Saint Veronica holding the cloth bearing Christ's visage. This incident, while not mentioned in the Gospels, is the Sixth Station of the Cross. Veronica, (aka Berenice), wiped the spit and mud from Jesus' face with her veil, cleansing him of the filth and depravity of mankind. Click on the picture for a closer look.


DUTA said...

"Mob violence is the self aggrandisement of people who are otherwise empty, insignificant, and impotent" - very well put and it is exactly what I also think and feel about mob violence.

However, what we Do about mob violence is not less important than what we think and feel about it. Sadly, we practically do Nothing about it. Moreover, leaders of some important nations, instead of dealing with the mobs in their own country, find it neccessary to interfere in the internal affairs of mobs in foreign places,thus wasting their nation's resources and increasing anarchy in the world.

It is amazing how a painting (The Carrying of the Cross)that depicts a scene taken from ancient times is relevant to our modern era.
Then, and nowadays, there are evil people (the ugly faces in the crowd) acting in an evil world (the black background in the painting).

Wayward said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
TallTchr said...

Thank you Duta and Lorna. Indeed, as the Muslim world is going through transformation, we can only hope that the crowds on the street are seeking justice and not mayhem.