Innocence: defined as a lack of being worldly or carnal, but it’s a concept that is more than just physical purity. A majority of people in our society scoff at innocence, either in private or publicly. When they do so publicly, they are often repeated, retweeted, even hi-fived, ad nauseum. From there, scoffing often devolves into outright hostile mockery. This seems so odd to me; why all this hostility, this strange sense of superiority to innocence?
For those of us who are devoted parents, shouldn’t we want (and hope for) a certain level of innocence to be present in our children? For the most part, we do. Yet many of these same parents view a celebrity who gives the impression of innocence with utter disdain. Nobody can be “cool” unless they are worldly, experienced… even perhaps cynical. Those people are trusted, admired, and eagerly followed.
On the other hand, the scales of innocence and experience are a dicey prospect, sociologically speaking. If a celebrity goes too far over the unfixed and debatable “line” between entertaining experience and utter reprehensible debauchery, they are also shunned, mocked, and scoffed at. Of course, this situation isn’t limited to celebrity – it’s common in every town, every high school, and every conference room.
I suppose a person vilifying the human train wrecks of society isn’t too hard to grasp, though it’d be more humane to pity them. They were chasing fame and fortune, got lucky or had real talent, and then the pressure to stay on top of their game became too much for them. Strange that with the innocent celebrities, some people seem insidiously eager to see them fall, even while they ridicule the fallen.
It could be argued that it’s human nature to shun them, the innocent and the train wreck people alike. Both the “herd” and “pack” mentalities dictate that the unfit must be driven from our midst. Is it that simple, though? After all, one man’s unfit is another man’s brother, lover, daughter, son, mother, or friend. How many people who mock a celebrity who has fallen from grace have also gotten outraged that a homophobic bully targeted their gay friend? To the bully, taught to hate as they do, the gay person is as unfit as the celebrity who was being mocked.
It can’t be that simple. As motives go, when the train wreck person is rich and famous, the most common motive is jealousy. “They had all that, but look at them now, serves them right.” Serves them? For what? Why seek “punishment” for the rich and successful, when all most of us dream of is being rich and successful? The line for buying lottery tickets is chock-full of hypocrites grousing about the fallen angels on the magazine covers they pass on the way to their chance at fortune.
At the root of this, for me, is the curious rejection of innocence. The innocent is mocked and then forgotten, but the celebrity train wreck stays in the news, because their plight is “entertainment”. Yet both the “cool” people and the train wreck people are ranked higher than the innocent in society’s brutal Darwinian scale of acceptance. Why?
There is even conflict among the innocent people. Some are happy with their situation and proud in the face of mockery, but others can’t wait to rid themselves of their innocence. Is innocence a disease? No, it’s not; but society tells us we must desire to be cool, and innocence isn’t cool. Remember those children? At least half of them if not more are probably sitting around wishing they were cool, and they know how to get there. Sex is a big route; then there are drugs, alcohol, smoking, and misconduct. Academic achievement is how to get branded a bigger nerd, not how to become “cool”. Blame society, folks.
Yet why does society reject innocence? I believe it is because society as a whole has already lost their innocence and they know they can’t get it back. There is a price to being “cool”, being worldly; yet those who seek it don’t realize until it’s too late that maybe they’d rather not pay that price. Like the wealth they don’t possess, they end up rejecting and finally mocking what they can’t have – what they can’t be.
Obviously, I’m discussing the extremes of society for the most part, though I’m not even getting into a chat about the real ugly deviants who enjoy hurting others for the “fun” of it. In the midst of the extremes, many people start innocent, grow up, get worldly for better or worse, trade innocence for experience and end up more or less happy. Some of these people even trade innocence for wisdom, compassion, and an ability to understand another person’s pain, and they lend a hand where and when they can.
For the record, I am not innocent in any context of the concept of innocence. However, I didn’t throw my virginity on a trash heap in an effort to be “cool”, or in a blind rush to usher in adulthood. My physical virginity was torn from me as a child, by my parents. To cope, I collected vices like other boys collect stamps. So that may give insight as to why I’m against the mockery of and active efforts to cheapen the value of innocence.
Now, though, I’m a parent. My children are innocent, free of the horrors I was forced to adapt to in order to survive. I want them to be free to choose for themselves in all aspects of life. What I don’t want is to have society tell them that unless they are this or that, they can’t be “cool”. Locking them up in a convent isn’t the answer, though, so what do I do? Simple – I teach them about true choice, true value, and the real worth of innocence; and then I protect them from outside forces that would try to harm them.
My final question was: Why are people willing to ruin their lives in the insane quest to be “cool”? I already know the answer, though. “Cool” is just a word. What it is at its root is acceptance. Acceptance doesn’t just mean one has friends. It means one won’t be shunned out of society. This drive to be accepted by our peers, our herd, or our pack; it’s instinctive, even primal.
In animals, the unfit is driven away or killed in order to preserve the health of the group. In people, it’s different, and far more brutal. We have “evolved” into a species that drives out the unfit, people who may not be unfit at all. They are merely branded “unfit” by the present group doing the driving out, because that group only wants members to be just like them. Anybody not just like the group could “taint” the group. This does nothing to improve the health of the group, or of society.
To me, this is nothing more than our base instincts being twisted into something sick and likely dangerous to many. For those who don’t agree, ask Stuart Walker of Scotland. Wait, we can’t do that; Stuart was beaten and burned alive, left out on the street as a warning – to other gay people. Yet most folks I talk to would agree that Stuart wasn’t “unfit” for any reason, and certainly not because he was gay. So why was he murdered? Because some people don’t agree with us that a gay man isn’t “unfit”, or a threat to their group.
One could argue I’ve wandered a bit from the topic of innocence and why it’s rejected and mocked. I haven’t – I’ve just carried it down a few different and variably disturbing pathways. What did neighbors, friends, and family say in the papers about Stuart Walker? He was a kind, decent, caring person, who hadn’t committed a crime or harmed or aggravated anybody. He was innocent.
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© W.R.R. 11/2/2011