It’s hard for me to approach this subject. I have no desire to capitalize on the current news cycle frenzy, but each time something of this magnitude happens I find myself thinking along very similar lines, and I feel I would be remiss if I did not call attention to the pattern that I see played out over and over and over...
Despite the continuous coverage dedicated to these events, the incessant repetitive replaying of every possible detail, the why of the tragedy never seems to come fully into focus. Those responsible are quickly categorized as “crazy,” their actions as “senseless,” any acknowledgement of their motivations is carefully sidestepped to avoid the appearance of endorsing their actions. Faced with such horror, people reflexively recoil; it is too frightening to think that there could be a reason for this behavior, that there might be a rationale to it, that it might be a predictable pattern. It is far easier to see it as the random terrible act of a disturbed individual, to see the act and the perpetrator as “evil.” But if we refuse to deal with the specifics of these
tragedies in this way, how can we ever hope to address the multitude of
factors that give rise to such tragic events?
We live in a society that is perpetually redefining our very concept of
reality. Our leaders routinely tell half truths and often outright lie in order to score political points, their agendas validated by a media that willfully reinforces the chosen narratives. They initiate pre-emptive wars based on false intelligence, rationalizing the death of innocents through an ever escalating campaign of fear. While we watch our president shed tears for the Sandy Hook victims, his administration executes a predator drone kill list, resulting in numerous civilian casualties; men, women and children. We have been at war for the longest period in our country’s history, but less than 1% of our population is actively serving in our military. More soldiers are committing suicide than are being killed in action. The best selling video game of all time is a first-person shooter called Call of Duty: Black Ops, selling more than 25 million copies worldwide with more than half of those sold in the US alone.
We have “reality” television where the focus is almost invariably fame and fortune, certainly not the banal day to day details of our daily lives (there’s no ratings potential in that). Similarly, the “news” is so focused on sensational stories, that investigative reporting has become the exception rather than the rule. Important events often go unreported - as if they didn’t actually occur. Blockbuster films are increasingly dark and “gritty,” to infuse them with a sense of “realism.” Of late I have noted a reliance on depictions of pain and suffering to connect with the audience on a more visceral level, to convince them that what they are witnessing on the screen is more than fiction. These type of depictions no longer seem to have a genre (or story) specific character, and show up all over the map. Of course, the more common these depictions become, the less we respond to them, and the more intense they must be to elicit any response at all.
Inundated with images of violence and cruelty, our dominant narrative one of competition and conflict - are we losing our ability to envision alternatives? Politics, entertainment, & marketing have become indistinguishable, their influence on our lives so omnipresent that it is increasingly difficult to recognize their presence. The privatization of education is but another step in this process, another method for restricting our perception of “reality.” Many parents & teachers believe that they are preparing children for “the real world,” sparing them future suffering by forcing them to follow the rules. But the resulting stigmatization of difference, of resistance, of creativity can create a confusing impasse. We encourage them to be the best, to excel, to stand out from the crowd while we simultaneously demand they fit in. How are their young minds to make sense of this contradiction? Are we teaching them to create their own reality or simply accept the ones marketed to them?
Somehow, despite all the mixed messages, we expect people to be
able to discern what is real and what is not, to recognize right from
wrong, and to do it on their own. Ruling with absolute authority, whether as a politician or a parent, leaves precious little space for dialogue. In our punitive culture, where any deviation from the prescribed plan is
met with ridicule, is it any wonder that people suffer in silence rather
than seek counsel? Do people stay silent because they fear there will be consequences if they reveal
their thoughts? Are we tolerant enough not to penalize those that step forward - tolerant enough to hear perceptions that may not match our own? Are we compassionate enough to deal with the sense of powerlessness that many in our society feel? Are we responsible enough to recognize our role in modeling violence as the solution of choice? Are we creative enough, and sensible enough, to come up with alternatives?
the wake of the tragedy there are calls for gun control legislation, treatment for
mental illness, greater security in our schools; but perhaps we need to move beyond these singular
solutions. Are we courageous enough to face the why?
Related - NYT Business, 12/24: Real and Virtual Firearms Nurture a Marketing Link