Did anybody else notice how solemn Marvel's film Captain America Civil War is? The tone and mood are very grim. Yet, can Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely, the writers, be blamed? Think about it? Who isn’t experiencing their own Weltschmertz, (a German word that means anxiety about the world) right now? Any of these sound familiar - Anxiety, fear, apprehension, worry foreboding, doubt, trepidation, malaise, disquiet, uneasiness?
Everyone in that film is experiencing their own collective existential and moral crises. The film deals with accountability, you know, when you have enhanced powers whether super or by virtue of wealth and position, and you believe what you are doing is righteous yet devastates the lives of the innocent. Or as King Pichaka, the ruler of Marvel’s fictional African nation, Wakanda, says in the movie, “Victory at the expense of the innocent is no victory at all.” I can’t help but feel that, though the action and effects were compelling enough, the writers missed the mark and that theme ended up a little fuzzy.
Still, it brings up the question for artists, commercial or otherwise, how do we create entertainment that addresses our individual and collective anxieties about the state of the world? Because, it seems, it cannot be avoided when we are in that state. It will be addressed, directly or inadvertently. In a study published by researchers at the University of Queensland in the journal Psychological Medicine and conducted across 91 countries, involving more than 480,000 people, it was found that globally, one in thirteen people suffer from anxiety.
A while ago, I was poisoned with toxic mold that, among other symptoms, brought on debilitating panic attacks and insomnia. I was hospitalized in a psychiatric facility for the first time and struck by what I saw as soul sickness in all the others I met there. I truly believe that trauma and a terrible, deep sadness were at the root of what had brought them there and far from being remedied by medical society and norms. Even if Weltshmertz were recognized as widely as I suspect we are feeling it, that would only be an invitation to brand the pharmaceutical response and address the condition by promoting wide use of the drugs. You can see how that’s bringing us back to the same question: how do we address our individual and collective Wetschmertz? Artists or otherwise.
Myself, I don’t know the answer. I know what I do to fend it off. I have for many years found inane ways to keep laughing. Call it gallows humor if you must, but it has become a go-to coping strategy for anxiety or depression. Even if I couldn't smile at first, I would binge watch a series that would otherwise make me laugh until I reconnected to that. Until this year, when I’ve been able to retreat from the Weltschmertz of the world by only watching animated series or films. Thank goodness for All Hail King Julian, the Dragon Rider shows, and Bottersnikes & Gumbles, all of which came after the cynical animated-adult-show-retreat-bridge with Family Guy and American Dad. Watching animated shows for kids, the subsequent chemical cocktail swirling in my brain, the lowering and softening of my stone hard shoulders, a deepening and slowing of my breath, all remedy me pretty good. I can attest to that much.
More than that, I’m here to say to Christopher Markus, Stephen McFeely and anybody else, I get it. I understand how you feel and I encourage us all to find the least victimization framed response. Don’t let it overpower you, let it steer you to your power, super or otherwise. As I see it, being centered in our individual humanity and compassion is a superpower.
How do we address our unease about the world? I would say, we address it openly together, that place where anxiety and fear go to die.