Sunday, January 10, 2010

On Smacking a Total Stranger With a Foam Sword

Cockatoo was walking through Balboa Park the other day - the green heart of downtown San Diego - enjoying the cool air, the warm sunlight, the carefree people, and all those other things Cockatoos enjoy during walks in the park, when off in the distance what did she see? A group of young adults, about 20 of them, holding odd-shaped swords and shields, pairing off, and attacking each other.

Cockatoo immediately started laughing, a sort of confused, nervous, super-excited, giddy laugh as she skipped her way a little closer to the action, totally delighted, though not quite sure why.

Was there something inherently funny and exciting about adult role playing games, which is what seemed to be going on? Not really. That sort of thing usually seemed either sleazy or boring. Was it the funny costumes? Eh, mostly the costumes just looked shoddy. Was it the clumsiness with which the clunky swords and shields (one guy even had a foam ax) were wielded? Not really. Cockatoo knows she couldn't do much better.

After a bit of introspection, Cockatoo began to think the nervous laughter arose because of the incongruousness and subtle precariousness of the situation (a precariousness that was illusory, she later learned). On a beautiful San Diego day, in the middle of a beautiful, peaceful park, while people in less peaceful parts of the world (Yemen, perhaps?) were actually dying - painful, bloody, needless deaths - here, in the meanwhile, were people pretending to kill each other. For the fun of it. With foam swords.

Not for the sport, the exercise, the challenge, the sense of getting in touch with a part of history. Sure, these might have been secondary reasons, but what was the primary reason? What would have been the first thing out of any of the participant's mouths if they'd been asked "Why are you doing this?" Answer: "Because it's fun!" And it really did look like a lot of fun. So much so that Cockatoo almost joined in after a friendly knight ran over, explained the game, and invited Cockatoo to play, but Cockatoo remembered the blog she had to write and, sadly, declined.

The game seemed perfectly natural, healthy even - a way for people to air those aggressive impulses we all occasionally get in a safe, harmless way. But still, it was pretty disturbing (admittedly, in a delicious, titillating way) given the role that violence plays in our world today. After all, we have protesters being beaten by riot cops, civilians being blown up by terrorists, "terrorists" being bombed by governments. Women and minorities and the poor being psychologically, socially, politically, and economically beaten by the racism, sexism, and ...

Ok, let's not start ranting, Cockatoo. You promised you wouldn't rant...

So, yes, that's what made the spectacle of medieval play-fighting a little disturbing. But what explains Cockatoo's delight, a delight she seemed to share with at least a few other people who also stood by and watched the game?

Cockatoo often experiences this sort of emotional difficulty - of having an emotional reaction for which she cannot provide an explanation. Cockatoo was not dropped on her head at birth, but she did fall down a long flight of stairs while sitting in a walker around age three. Strangely, the only injury she was left with was a black eye ... or so it seemed. Maybe she just suffered a bit of neglect during those important formative years, resulting in a kind of emotion-processing impairment. Very common, you know... Whatever the reason, when this sort of situation arises, Cockatoo likes to employ a little rational analysis to try to figure out what's going on inside her head.

Tune in next Wednesday for ...

Medieval Combat and the Delight It Inspires: An Analysis and Conclusions

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