Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Humans Suck*

*Okay, maybe not all of them. Certainly not you and only occasionally, me. Still, being flooded with details about the Virginia Tech incident, hearing people, once again, rallying behind gun control laws, I have towonder if it makes any difference at all. (Although I would like to point out that the NRA is based in Virginia and there is not a single mention of the incident on their website today.)

People have always found ways to kill one another - with poison, knives, pillowcases and airplanes - and I wonder if removing one weapon (albeit, the most efficient) will cure this sickness at all. (Looking for a more educated, hopeful write-up on this topic? Go here.) Some might say I'm a cynic but I prefer the term realist - I think it lies within each of us an ability to kill as well as an ability to love.

Meanwhile, come Friday - regardless of this latest incident - the media will mark the 8th anniversary of the Columbine massacre. Now that I am living just down the road from Littleton (noted locally for its adorable historic downtown) I can see why the locals dread the annual scab-picking event that it has become.

It was barely a year after Klebold and Harris had done their deed and I was meeting a new colleague in San Francisco. We were discussing where we had grown up when I noticed her sudden discomfort. Finally, she blurted, "Littleton, Colorado" and looked at the floor. There was some uncomfortable silence and finally somebody (God, I hope it was me) said, "Oh, I'll bet it's pretty there" and the conversation resumed. Of course we wanted to know what it was like, how she felt about it, etc. but what is there to say?

This is the challenge I face today: What is there left to say? What can we learn from this? Are we capable of learning at all? Is this just an invitable part of modern society? An out-facing boil that reveals an inner sickness?

Tom Mauser became a national advocate of gun control after his 15-year-old son, Daniel, was slain at Columbine High School. Even today, he admits: "I am not going to just say gun laws are going to take care of this." Instead, he wonders what precipitates such heinous events. "I think my primary thought is about anger. Anger and suicide. Why do we have so many people who think they have to take others' (lives) with them when they take their own?"

Brooks Brown, a former Columbine student who knew the gunmen and repeatedly tried to warn authorities about threats they had made, said the Virginia slayings didn't surprise him. "Once you've reached the point where you have lost everything it is not hard to be pushed in any direction," he said.

What disturbs me personally is my own feeling of distance. In the early hours of the story, before the number of victims were confirmed, another blogger and I sheepishly admitted our first reaction - annoyance.

"Tell me I'm an asshole," they said, "All I can think of in light of this school shooting is 'The Gonzales hearing won't be televised tomorrow! Nobody will carry it, they'll be 'working' this bleeds-it-leads story all week. It'll probably ruin Larry King's annversary week plans too."

My friend then asked me to rate their 'asshole-ish-ness' on a scale of 1 to 10. I found myself unable to pass judgement since my first thought was, "Another school shooting? Wait, didn't we just have one? Is this a different one?" As if this was some kind of parade protest or scheduled event. I then went back to work, not quite ready to attempt the impossible - to get a grasp on what has happened, understand the grief, ask who has done this and why.

I can only hope this is the last time I write about this - it is certainly not the first.

Finally, I leave you with a poem written by Norman Mailer in 1967 immediately after he stabbed his second wife with a pen knife. He missed her heart by chance:

So long
a knife,


Fang Bastardson said...

I didn’t want to blog about this myself for reasons I'm about to reveal, but allow me to take over your comments section for a minute.

I was emailing my GOP pal Steve Rogers about all this, and that how in the end, the wall-to-wall media coverage would center around the killer and the issue of gun control. (He thought it was outrageous, of course, that gun control be brought into this completely unrelated tragedy, but I digress.)

Anyhow, here’s what I wrote him. (For the record, I produce several weekly community newspaper/life-support systems for legal advertising, and I select and edit most of the wire copy that accompanies said legal ads, so technically I too am part of this “Media” beast we all pretend to abhor but can't tear ourselves away from.)

I wrote:

Remember when I said it was all about the guy and the guns?

The media is gonna make a folk hero out of this guy, just like they did with the Columbine killers. Everybody will know his name. And I think that for so many of these guys, going out in a blaze of infamy is a BIIIG part of the allure of the killing spree that ends in suicide. I’ve never spoken or written those Columbine guys’ names (and not just because they took all the focus off my birthday that year), and I won’t this guy’s name.

The ancient Egyptians did a pretty cool thing with people who fell out of favor in their society – they erased his (or her) name from anywhere it appeared (which in ancient Egypt was pretty much everywhere). After a generation or two, the memory of the miscreants was expunged, lost to history.

I wish the media – all of it/us – would stop giving these fuckers the Big Play they wanted. Your can bet your bottom dollar I either won’t be running anything about this event in any of my papers, or if I do, I’ll find a piece without the miscreant’s name, or will edit the piece around it.

I won’t be complicit. That’s something I can do.

ClizBiz said...

Those Egyptians had the right idea though I have to say, it's pretty unrealistic approach in modern times. Easy enough not to pick up a hammer and chisel and make note of the pariah in stone but I can't see bloggers collectively agreeing to not name names. As a nation, we are too bloodthirsty and as writers (media, bloggers,etc.) we are too twitchy.

Furthermore, what does it matter if we erase the killer's name when they've already offed themselves? It's not like they are hanging out in the martyr's lounge with all the virgins checking in on their legacy.

Nevertheless, I applaud your restraint but history books are never full of stories about nice, uneventful days.

Fang Bastardson said...

I guess all I was saying was, as responsible left-wing media-types, we ought to find a way to remember and learn from heinous events without inadvertently lionizing the perpetrators of same. “The Columbine Killers” communicates all that needs to be said without mentioning Beavis and Butthead by name, the same way this horror can be remembered and learned from without ever speaking the name of the perpetrator.

Ultimately, we can’t rob them of their body count, but we can diminish the notoriety they sought in death that no doubt so deservedly eluded them in life.

Jeff C. said...

Somewhere along the line, the notion that human life is sacred has been lost, ya know? I don't mean in terms of "kill all abortionists," because I'm pro-choice, but in terms of respecting other people's right to life. And respecting your own life enough to find a way to make it livable. We only get one shot at it; to off yourself is to miss an opportunity and to take other people with you is downright cowardly.

Either that or evolution has peaked and we're on the backside. Which, honestly, is a scary thought.

hotdrwife said...

I was happy to see CNN finally put the faces up of the victims today as their lead picture, versus the killer's picture. I want to remember THEIR names. Already, you can see the tributes to them on their own personal myspace pages, blogs, etc. It's incredibly touching and totally heartwrenching to read.

I don't know really where the problem lies. And I hope something has been learned from what happened at Columbine. Having lived in this state during the tragedy and having a husband that operated on the victims, it breaks my heart a thousand times more for what they all are and will be going through.

This world kinda sucks, at times. And I just want to hug my kid, and love him and protect him as best I can for the rest of his life.

God willing, it's a long one.

I'm done. Promise.

(PS my word verification had 'eek' in it, and I think that's quite fitting)