Thursday, September 17, 2009

TV Snapshot: The power of words

In the “Nevermore” episode of Warehouse 13 (a SyFy series about a secret government organization that tracks down and stores “artifacts” or objects that have supernatural power), a teenager named Bobby is under the influence of a pen owned and used by Edgar Allen Poe, which both accentuates the pain of the verbal torture Bobby has suffered at the hands of his peers as well as gives him power over his physical surroundings simply by writing a word on a piece of paper. Warehouse agents Pete and Claudia, who are trying to get the pen back and free Bobby from its influence, are trapped under a swinging pendulum which Bobby created with the Poe pen. They try to get Bobby to see how the pen is influencing him and help him return to reality—but Bobby won’t listen.

Bobby: People like you don’t see me! You don’t believe in me. People like you need to be shocked into seeing. You need to be horrified. Then you’ll understand.

Claudia: Understand what, Bobby? Tell me, what?!

Bobby: That words have power!

*You can watch the episode on Hulu
This is the second Warehouse 13 episode in a row that includes an artifact associated with a literary author (last week’s ep included a typewriter belonging to Sylvia Plath, which drains out all happiness and leaves only depression). While the series itself has its shortcomings (which I’ll leave for another blog post), I must admit that I really appreciated how this episode reveals how both written and spoken words have power—both to harm and to heal.

Choosing Edgar Allan Poe and the horror genre to associate with the power of words is a good one. Wikipedia points out that the genre is a “medium intended to scare, unsettle, or horrify the audience.” When it’s done well, as Bobby indicates above it can shock us into grappling with aspects of the darker side of the human condition that we’ve ignored or of which we were previously unaware. In this case, Bobby has been relentlessly verbally picked on by his peers. We all know the old adage about “sticks and stones” and words, but the truth is (and we all too often forget or choose to ignore the fact) that words have power to wound deeply. This becomes literally true as Bobby is seduced by the pen and begins to use words the way they were used against him and starts to take revenge on those who hurt him. Only this time, the words tangibly bring physical pain and destruction.

But the episode also reveals the power of words to heal, free and save. The father of another Warehouse agent, Myka, is dying after coming under the power of Poe’s journal (the words of which literally crawl up his skin and cause him physical pain), a book that is viscerally connected to the pen. Myka has had a strained relationship with her father for years, but deeply loves and desperately wants to save him. When another Warehouse agent realizes that reading to him will weaken the journal's power, she begins to read aloud the pages of her father’s own unpublished novel—which, interestingly, chronicles his personal story and how deeply he loves his daughter. As the truth of those words are spoken, not only does the power of Poe’s journal begin to lose its grip on Myka’s father but Myka’s own pain begins to lose its grip on her in the wake of her father’s words of love for her.

I find all this echoes deeper truths. It is no coincidence that James puts quill to papyrus to warn us of the power of the tongue to damage. And neither is it a fluke that Jesus is referred to as the Word, the one that was in the beginning and gives us life. It seems that at the core of the power of words is their source. For some, words are expressions of things like fear, selfishness, pride and attempts to gain power, influence and revenge. For others, words are expressions of things like the compassion, goodness, conviction, and honesty born of love. In the end, it is what is inside of us that is expressed in the words we choose. If that is fear, pride or selfishness, those words will destroy and harm. But if that is love—especially the Word who is Love Himself—our words will ultimately foster healing, freedom, redemption and life.

Warehouse 13 may have its flaws, but I must admit I am enjoying its literary and bookish touches—and how those bring God-talk into open spaces.

(Images: SyFy via Hulu)

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