“People work hard. When you talk about Memphis, it’s usually First 48 or something bad. But there’s good people everywhere. And you don’t look bad on nobody because somebody went to the penitentiary or somebody did this. You treat everybody the same because everybody’s got skeletons. Some people just hide them more.”
— Zach Randolph
I’m a hypocrite and I’m sick of modifiers. I blanch at hyperbole. Euphemisms induce wincing. And this shit, our discourse, our media, the one we ask for, the one we deserve, shrieks and shouts and flails not just because it – because we – feel pain, but because we think we have to shriek and shout and flail to prove We Really Care.
The perpetrator is always the same: loner, misunderstood, incredibly bright, generally nice, reticent, male, Caucasian, suburban, fairly educated, absolute fucking psychopath, but you always kind of knew.
The place is always the same: peaceful, charming, America, small town, middle-class, picket fences, manicured lawns, expansive trees, decent schools, tight-knit community.
The victims are always the same: blameless, blank slates, named, faceless, young, Picture Day gap-toothed smiles, wailing fellow students, silent stoic parents, solemn town leadership, shattered futures, the next Marie Curie.
“On Friday, one human killed twenty-eight humans.” Nobody says that. The outlets that come close say “twenty-seven” – because apparently, the killer no longer counts as a dead human, as a victim.
“On Friday, a man killed twenty-seven others and himself.”
“A boy slaughtered his mother, twenty Kindergarteners, and five elementary school teachers, before turning his guns on himself.”
“A teenager slaughtered his own mother, twenty babies, and five teachers, before taking his own life.”
Any of these iterations, or any other that presents just facts – that sticks to nouns and verbs, instead of adjectives and adverbs – why the fuck isn’t that enough for us? How is that not scary or awful or depressing or shocking or whatever else the shit we want?
Why go back to the tired narrative of genius misunderstood killer, perfect angel dead people, sleepy New England / mountain / rural town?
Why is my newsfeed full of people “liking” pictures that proclaim dead teachers are heroes?
Well, of course they’re fucking heroes. But they’re heroes because they’re teachers. They’re heroes because they had choices in life, and they decided to spend their careers serving the public good, trying to educate Minis into productive members of society. They’re heroes because they could’ve done something easier, but they wanted to do right. You’re a hero, or you exhibit courage, when you exercise free will.
Bruce Lee said, “[u]nder duress, we do not rise to our expectations – we fall to the level of our training.” The instinct that drives a six-year-old boy to tear out the door when a gunman strode in, the gut that hurtled this principal down the hall, the synapse that propels my right arm to block my dinner date from bouncing into incoming traffic – that’s not heroism or bravery or courage. Maybe heroism or bravery or courage led us to train ourselves to perform in these ways under duress. But that last moment, itself, isn’t what’s heroic.
So why the shit do we play out this narrative every damn time? What, the bare facts here aren’t dramatic or terrifying or depressing or interesting enough for us? Why do we want TV news to interview the Minis and ask them “how did it feel? What happened?” ARE YOU FUCKING KIDDING ME? And why don’t we change the channel when a stranger with a camera and lights and huge microphones and a posse crouches over a Mini to ask her what happened, pretending like this child will give us answers, but really just titillated by it all.
We receive and devour the media we deserve. Why are the bare facts not enough? Why do we try to make it sound even worse? We cling to the Victorian construct (yes, it is that new of an idea) of childhood purity; we act like Newtown is Stars Hollow, forgetting how dysfunctional Stars Hollow can be; we proclaim Adam Lanza is fucking crazy while muttering that he’s just like so many of those other weird boys we ignored in high school, those weird boys we were wary of in high school, those weird boys we were in high school.
We hide behind myth and adjectives to make the situation sound as crazy and unique as possible. And we’re lying through our fucking teeth. Because we wouldn’t work so hard to make this shit sound so crazy, so far from the norm, if we didn’t feel it bubbling within us every day, if those Buffy episodes of invisible girls and botanist monster boys didn’t strike a chord with every generation,
if we weren’t fucking ashamed and terrified and confused about how to deal with the mentally ill.
If the idea of America weren’t so fucking Manifest Destiny. That American Dream: single-family home. Two-car garage. Freshly-manicured lawn. Cement-block sidewalk. A man’s home is his castle, his retreat; curtilage, and all; he is his house’s sovereign. And you struggle with your family? Take that shit inside. Nobody wants to see you struggle. And you’re ashamed to bring it into the light. So let’s leave one woman to cope with her son – even though we all know there’s something “off” – she has that house, and the New York Times says she hired a landscaper just to put up her Christmas lights, so she can deal with her family’s private shit by her damn self. Not our problem.
If the idea of America weren’t so fucking Manifest Destiny. We flip over Janet Jackson’s nipples, but god damn it I am an American and I get to have my guns. Why is it that we claim a weapon represents our nation? How do we view ourselves? Why is that symbol so important? What does it stand for, anyway?
Twenty-eight people died on Friday and it is a tragedy.
Last Sunday, December 9, two people died of gunshot wounds on Chicago’s West Side. One was sixteen. One was in his twenties. Here is the google doc, updated every couple of weeks, that lists all Chicago homicides in 2012.
As of December 9’s murders, there were 489 homicides in Chicago so far this year. 424 gunshot; 37 stabbing; 11 assault; 6 strangling; 3 child abuse; 2 auto crash; 1 arson; 1 suffocation; 1 trauma.
2012 isn’t over, and in Chicago, there have been at least 489 homicides, and 424 were committed by people shooting guns. But I guess even Kanye West singing about it doesn’t make it newsworthy. And I’m sure I don’t need to spell out why.
So what we have – what we have is a fucking public health crisis. But guns aren’t the only public health issue.
Is it healthy to shun the mentally ill?
Is it healthy to stigmatize “personal” problems to force moms to deal with them in the shadows?
How stupid could we be to ever pretend the “personal” and the “political” aren’t one and the same?
What is our narrative, so that boys who are mentally ill explode outward, and girls turn upon themselves?
How sick are we, that a weapon is synecdoche for the world’s oldest democracy?
Who are we, to mourn Sandy Hook and ignore homicides all around us?
We blame gangbangers for bringing it on themselves? We don’t think it’s a public health disaster for our own neighbors to grow up in war zones on our own damn land, in our own damn territory, in the heart of our country? (Because every single bit is the heart of our country.)
And we don’t think kids killed by strays are as worthwhile as innocent suburban Kindergarteners?
And – maybe most terrifying for me – it’s not enough to say, “one human killed twenty-eight humans.” We want it nastier. We want it more interesting. We want it more scintillating. We want it more tragic. We want to sensationalize Sandy Hook and turn it into our own damn soapboxes, Mitt Romney wink-and-nudging the Salt of the Earth while being so arrogant to think we’re above the fray.
This is America, and we want our adjectives. The only thing we might want more? Sunday Night Football.