“Nothing shocks me.” I heard that back at about ten years ago. It was an American girl, I don’t remember much about her, a friend of a friend. We were holed up in a student flat after a midweek night out and it focused us all on trying to disprove it. For the next few hours as we waited for the first bus we argued with her that she was, in fact, capable of being shocked.
I didn’t go to college but I drank with students at that age. We’d been to a Nite that no longer exist in a venue that’s changed owners a few times and danced to music we’d be embarrassed to admit now. After we headed back with our friends’ who were in NCAD. A good few of us piled in to the shared bedrooms of the purpose built accommodation on the edge of the city. It had thick walls and harsh angles. There wasn’t much going on, we weren’t going to kip there so were waiting it out til the buses started. We smoked out the small gap in the windows and used empty wine bottles for ashtray and listened to burnt CDs. The internet was ever present at the time but it was in terminals that you sat down at and not in our pockets. We kept the music and chat low trying to not disturb the straights in the rooms over. We’d been louder and had been cautioned the weeks before. It was pretty tame and of little note.
Then the American girl said very proudly that “nothing shocks me”. With all the jaded apathy of a craggy New York cop. It was a weird shell to drop on the conversation. We were talking about Queens of the Stone Age and other tripe before hand. Me and my friends all turned on her to dispute it. I think it was the pride with which she said it that irked me. It had that air of “I’ve seen things that would make YOU sick” but she wouldn’t blink an eye. I couldn’t get over it. It seemed like a premature grasp at maturity. We were young and on still pulling the seal off of the reality of life that was hidden from us as children. That era where you’re doe-eyed to the big bad world. Perhaps life for her had been tough and she’d to grow up fast. I was a late bloomer sure enough but I still doubted her claim. I didn’t feel that was what she was getting at.
What I was getting was in relation to that craze at the time, and today, of nasty images being circulated. You’d get tricked and click on an attachment only to see a load of old blokes sucking each other off. It’s a cheap prank because even though you wouldn’t rule out that old lads in the world suck each other off. You’ve probably not gotten to the point of reflection and set out to find images out of curiosity. And you definitely didn’t think you were just going to see it when you clicked an image called “lemonparty.jpg” on the PC in you parent’s kitchen. “You got me” you say when you see the sender and they can feel like the Prankmaster General. But the craze got too popular and in the race to forward the image on to all your mates many people got send multiple times. And as a result got very blasé about it. After you’ve seen it a hundred times the thrill is so long gone that you’ve forgotten if there ever, really, was any feeling. You start to think that you’ve gone beyond shocked. That you’d frankly love to be sent something that gave you any feeling in your numb body. Clicking through slideshows on rotten.com chasing a kick as good as your first time. But there’s nothing and you eventually give up and decide that you’ve passed it. You’ve plunged earth and seen the bottom and now you have gone beyond caring.
That was the assumption I’d put on her and we spent the rest of the night coming up with scenarios that would surely shock her. “Say I shit into this wine bottle. Into this tiny hole. A big plump shite spilling over the edge.” That wouldn’t change her mind. “But what if I really did it? Like right now. You’d definitely be shocked. Some lads that you hardly know shitting in a wine bottle.” Nothing. We got annoyed that she wasn’t really considering us doing it.
I feel I also took it was an insult, a superiority thing. She being the grown up and me being the baby because I am regularly shocked to my core. And I accept that because I’ve no grasp on how much I don’t know yet. The world, primarily humans, have no end in sight with how low they can go. Every time I draw the line it gets pushed further back. The notion of “shocked” is in something happening that is so unexpected that it affects us physically. That echoey lightness inside us that can take days to pass. That feeling of having to reevaluate how we look at life as we try to heal the tenderness inside. Feeling that bit raw inside, I think, makes people feel vulnerable and most of us don’t like that feeling and brace against it by trying to exploit it in others. So we get emails sent to us by the joker that’s already beyond the initial shock, lost that feeling and is trying to provoke it in others. The softies, the weeds, the babies. Those that need shocking the most.
But what’s gotten me thinking about this again is that these days I feel like I can’t get shocked anymore. Not talking about internet nasties. But in stories in the press. These atrocities, these tragedies, the political corruption. I’ve gone beyond that feeling beyond it affecting me. The watershed moment was probably on the 11th of September. The first international nasty that was sent to us all. That was just as I’d gone from baby school to the big kids school and it was time for me to grow up. This was the big bad world. Then there was the headlines months after about those American Soldiers in Abu Ghraib following and they shocked me, perhaps even more. There was depravity on both sides. And it just went on like that. In the world of 24 hour news today’s victim could be tomorrow’s oppressor and it just gets so much work to keep up that you just have to stop caring. “Did you hear about the firebombing of that school in Philippines?” Whatever. And I just get on with my day. You can mourn, you can tweet, you can say a little prayer but it’ll change fuck all and there’ll be another thing the next week. I get bored of the news to the point that the sharing or discussion of it now irritates me. “Can you believe the treatment they gave the immigrants?” Yes, I can because there no finish line on the race to the bottom. And perhaps part of it is that I’ve seen enough cycles of it at now that it just feels like a big wheel. Like in a water mill. Shock the ones that haven’t been jaded until they’re jaded and then they can shock the next batch coming through. Making you wanna do something. But there’s nothing you really can do but find out how it unfolds the next day, and the next day. It’ll send your head into a spin until you cut yourself off and just be done with it. But where does that leave you once you’ve opted out of cycle of shock-propelled action by deciding to stop caring? Honestly I don’t know.
We left that student gaf with the air flattened by our insistence on driving our point home. The friends fell asleep, probably glad to be rid of us. I don’t remember if we seen that girl after. I feel bad now thinking of a bunch of lads shouting disgusting things at her to get her to admit that she was wrong. Threatening to defecate in bottles and all manner of vile things. She probably hated us. Which is deserved. And as I’ve said “shock” can be bled back and forth with “care”. When she said nothing shocked her she could have meant that she didn’t care about anything. She was beyond caring. Which would be handy when having to deal with a prick prattling on at ya.
Mark Baldwin - 2018