Thursday, January 30, 2014

Lullabye Chapter 2 in which DEAD BABIES. DEAD BABIES EVERYWHERE.

What happens in this chapter: Carl tells us about an ethics question on his journalism exam and about the story he's about to be working on: a five-part series on sudden infant death syndrome.

Right, so: dead babies. What, did you think I was kidding? No, no, this is Palahniuk, the more morbid the better! The chapter opens with Carl talking about a the only question that was on his ethics exam before he graduated from Journalist school. The question was basically this: You're sent to get details on a kid that choked on a Christmas ornament on Christmas eve. You go, get the details, write the story, and your editor is demanding the color of the ornament for the article. Won't run the article without it.

Do you:
Call the grieving parents
Or
Refuse and lose your big shot job?

Carl, being smarter than everyone around him, especially his teachers who wrote the exam, chose neither. He'd call the paramedics! They have that catalogued, obviously. They gave his ethics a D. Carl doesn't go on about what bullshit that is, but the wording of "They gave my ethics a D" has a certain level of  a superiority complex. He's obviously being punished because he outsmarted their test and they were angry. Not because he failed to understand the point of the question. He will continue to miss the point near the end of the chapter and wonder if this was less about ethics and more his teachers trying to warn him, "Are you really sure you want to do this?"

An artist's interpretation of Carl

Carl will then go on to try to tell us how he's TOTES A RELIABLE NARRATOR! 
Instead of ethics, I learned only to tell people what they wanted to hear. I learned to write everything down. [...] And maybe I didn't learn ethics, but I learned to pay attention. No detail is too minor to note.
I definitely trust this man to be honest about what's going on and not be bias as fucking hell in all his writing, I don't know about you. A man who claims everything they do is robotic and they are a perfect machine and therefore obviously rational and what are these feelings you speak of? No no, those are for women, he is a man and has no such thing, so they couldn't possibly cloud his judgement or ability to report on things (spoiler: Yes it can).

We're told about Duncan, Carl's editor who put him on this 5 part "feel good" special about sudden infant death syndrome (more on that in a minute) and, once again, not charitable descriptions.
 The details about Duncan are he's pocked with acne scars and his scalp is brown along the hairline every two weeks when he dyes his gray roots. His computer password is "password."
I want to underline how we're not told "Duncan is like X", we're told "Duncan IS X".  Look at how hard Carl's trying to be a reliable narrator. No, no, he's just giving us the facts about Duncan and letting us form our own opinions! Doesn't matter that he draws attention only to his imperfections, and says absolutely nothing positive. That said, Carl is not supposed to be a kind or generous kind of man. 
Now, back to the dead babies. Or rather, Duncan's pitch for them.
There are so many people with infants, my editor said. It's the type of story that every parent and grandparent is too afraid to read and too afraid not to read. There's really no new information, but the idea was to profile five families that had lost a child. Show how people cope. How people move forward with their lives. ... That angle.
Award bait, basically. Carl tags along with paramedics and gets to see the scene of tragedy of the broken home as the parents tearfully answer the seemingly random questions. He snoops around the nursery with the other paramedic. As he goes through and tells us about the decor (there's a needlepoint saying "Thursday's Child has far to go"), the smell (baby powder), the books laying around (Poems and Rhymes from Around the World) and continues to try and be a machine and report this all in a very robotic way. 

Again, the narrator is trying to prove how reliable he is, but his reaction to wandering around the house of someone who just lost their kid being coolly observing his surroundings (and it is his surroundings, not the parents he notices) is telling. He is supposed to be writing about the people--profiling their family, writing about how they cope, but while he goes into such detail about what the nursery looks like there is no description at all of the parents. He may be able to notice every minor detail, but he chooses not to. He chooses to not even notice the big details of the parents.

This should be telling about his objectivity, and this is caused by his feelings, which we're given no indication on because Carl is so determined to be objective. He's so determined he leaves out his own bias and (actual spoiler) doesn't mention his own child who he lost to crib death 20ish years ago. He at no point shows us his own details or feelings on the subject of being put on this exploitative, award bait story, and why? Because he's never dealt with it, and he refuses to, because that would involve admitting he has feelings, or something like it. He just goes along and starts doing it with no hint to anyone (his editor or the reader) of his own very personal history or experience with it. There are Reasons we don't get this information yet--but it underlines just how unreliable Carl is because dude's got his own issues with refusing to have feelings and hiding behind a front of cold, rational objectivity.

The chapter ends with Carl coming to the previously-mentioned conclusion of "The test was really a warning" because, again, not projecting at all.

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