Byron Williams
Critical Analysis Essay 1
Don DeLillo’s “Videotape”: The Attractiveness of Death among Humans
At a point in our lives, we are introduced to death in an informal or a formal way. Everyone understands that people will die in our lifetimes. Often after death is viewed first-hand, we interpret this aspect of life as finalization of everything for the once living soul. You use memories to stimulate bond-tightening moments, but the same memories can also paralyze you.
The numbness we feel when thinking about death will erode into peace and acceptance, but we’re forever scarred. Instantly, our attraction to death and how it takes place is heightened. .The attraction to death is focused upon the death of others who we know, if anything, little of. The end of an unfamiliar person is sadly a time when grief does not fall upon us in an extreme way. The grief is replaced by a sense of us having to know what happened and how.
In DeLillo’s “Videotape”, he insures this claim with his paragraph structure, vivid descriptions of the emotions when viewing a videotape, and repetitive showing and viewing of the recorded death. He keeps many of the paragraphs between four and seven lines allowing us to gather a lot of information in small quantities, keeping readers on their toes. Also the occasional use of words like “crime” and “victim” hint at something bad, satisfying the human thirst for maliciousness. Finally, with each party in the story being obsessed with the video, it underlines our inability to look away from something that we know would crush our spirits if we knew who it happened to.
DeLillo starts numerous paragraphs with the phrase “You know about…” Using these three words, he taps into our thoughts of whatever he mentions next. This makes us more likely to agree with what he says, as we have almost all experienced it. In one paragraph DeLillo writes “You know how families make up games” and in another, mentions how “You know about holidays and family celebrations and how somebody shows up with a camcorder…” He is fulfilling our desire to know as much as possible, just as the people in the story were analyzing the video so meticulously. DeLillo himself analyzed the video as if we were watching it personally, using phrases like “…the sputtering black-and-white tones, the starkness…” and “…wagging a hand…that makes you like him.” Finally, DeLillo controls our mental actions to a certain extent. It is evident that he imposes his will upon us in one of the paragraphs reading “And you keep on looking. You look because this is the nature of the footage, to make a channeled path through time, to give things a shape and a destiny.”
In the 3rd paragraph, the opening sentences read “You know about families and their video cameras…They investigate the meaning of inert objects… and they poke at family privacy.” This paragraph serves to make us reach for our experiences with these instruments. He forges emotion that we feel when video cameras are on, or in use by, ourselves. DeLillo’s subject is the “nature of the tape”. He describes this nature in the statement “superreal, or maybe underreal…It is what lies at the scraped bottom of all the layers you have added… another reason why you keep on looking”. So by striking a relationship between superreal or underreal (nature of the tape) aspects and surreal (feelings of morbidity) aspects, we are given a new way to look at our supposed obsession of death. Even the little girl is described to have been obsessed with what took place while she was recording. DeLillo writes “…head-shot, and the camera reacts, the child reacts—there is a jolting movement but she keeps on taping…she keeps the camera trained on the subject as he slides into the door…as you see him die…”. He introduces the idea of human beings being prematurely attracted to death, even during a fictional shocking event like the one described.
DeLillo forces us to analyze why death can cause so much pain but attract so much attention to a certain degree, through the use of extremity. And becoming emotionally attached to what is going on, we are mentally placed in, and obsessed with the story.