Wednesday, April 18, 2007

OK, take 2 ...

Reader "Gary," who I'm going to assume is the only Gary I know (from way back at Virginia Tech, no less) and not some random Gary, said my last post, about the Virginia tech killings, was "a bit flippant ... even for you." My normal response to a comment like that would be something like "Bite me, asshole," but in this case Gary is absolutely correct--even I'm not really, deep down inside, that flippant about the awfulest, most tragic and senseless thing to have happened since ... well, since the last really awful, tragic, senseless thing. They happen a lot in this country.

That post doesn't really reflect the depth of my thoughts and feelings about the incident and was probably more a reaction to having just watched some wretched network news coverage of the killings .. I mean the "MASSACRE at Virginia Tech™," which is now its official name, according to NBC, complete with official Massacre at Virginia Tech logo:

I wonder if they issue staff ball caps and jackets bearing the logo so they can be distinguished from CNN's "Massacre at Virginia Tech" team ... OK, I admit, that was flippant. But that doesn't mean I'm not appropriately saddened and horrified. It's just that I quickly get into sneering/cynical mode after watching a few network anchors wearing their Serious Tragedy Faces (Stone Phillips has the worst best most extreme Serious Tragedy Face) speaking over maudlin montages of grief stricken people and assuring us that The Healing Process™ will begin after the next commercial message. All the appropriate words feel like they were scripted by the news anchors; the word "saddened," for example, seems almost hackneyed because it's been babbled so many times by the newsheads. So it's hard to say anything and not feel like part of the big mawkish parade of national grief

Virginia Tech and Blacksburg are very dear to me, though, and the thought of these things happening there just breaks my heart. I also get a lump in my throat looking at the photos of the people killed and thinking about how the obviously delusional and probably paranoid kid who shot them completely slipped through the cracks ... despite what appear to be lots of warning signs.

I remember that Blacksburg always felt a bit like a parallel universe--it really is sort of out in the middle of nowhere (maybe less so now than when I was there--we had no internet back then) and nothing really big ever seemed to happen there. It has grown a lot since I lived there--it looked quite different when I was back there last August and had lost a lot of its small-town feel, but it still seemed rather cozy.

So I guess I can understand why people would say that Virginia Tech was not a place they would expect this kind of thing to happen, because it did seem rather remote from such real world problems when I was there. But then again, where in the hell DOES one expect such things to happen? OK, the Post Office, maybe, but other than that, is there anyplace you expect some kid to just open fire on people? Should we even expect such a thing? But we do sort of expect it--even classmates of the most recent shooter, Cho Sueng-hui, speculated about whether he was the type to become a "school shooter." And I must admit that I have had similar conversations with co-workers about whether one of our own was likely "go postal," and which one of us he (it's always a he) would be likely to take out first (me, probably because of my flippancy.)

So I have sort of come to expect mass shootings, as Tim Rutten points out in the L.A. Times,
"... the readily accessible databases that now comprise the news media's collective memory contain a category of atrocity labeled "school shooting" with enough entries to make comparisons relevant. (Ultimately, the Virginia gunman would nearly double the previous record, which had stood since the 1966 bloodbath at the University of Texas at Austin.) There's nothing sinister or even particularly callous in this. This country's recent history is what it is, and the parsing of tragedy is one of the journalist's unavoidable obligations. And yet it's hard to escape the suspicion that a practiced news media's routinization of atrocity has made it easier for all of us to rationalize as unavoidable something we all ought to hold as horrifically aberrational."

Anyway, I'd say more but I've gotta go. Radio. 8-10 pm. 88.7 FM if you're local if you're not.


Anonymous said...

If I really spent my time being mortified about mortifying events that take place in the world, I wouldn't be able to function. I would seriously be a wreck. I would spend all my time mortified and certainly depressed.

The students who died in the tragic events that took place at Virginia Tech are a small fraction of people who died needless that day. The slaughter is truly world wide. The media has decided that Tech is worthy of our mourning. This is easily achieved with a populace who really doesn't know what's going on in the world.

I don't want to belittle the pain and anger of Tech students, families, and alumni, but I'm none of those. I'm also saddened by the images of these young kids who died needlessly, but I must confess that I'm not sitting around wringing my hands asking "why"?

The slaughter in one form or another is world wide, why would I expect the U.S. to be exempted. Considering our incredibly violent culture, I'm frankly surprised it doesn't happen more often.

Example: U.S. soldiers respond to a road side bomb, by spraying the surrounding houses with gunfire. Three Iraqis are killed including 2 young children. Not good but hardly a tragedy, according to the U.S. media. "After all it's Iraq, we should expect people to be slaughtered. What's the point of getting all worked up, more will be slaughtered tomorrow?"

Unless you're directly effected, on a daily basis, how do you decide what tragedy or atrocity you will be sad about? Not a problem CNN will tell you. Now if for some reason you're more upset about the slaughter in Darfur than Virginia Tech, you might be criticized for being heartless (or even un-American).

Now, just because I'm not going to Virginia Tech prayer vigils and lighting candles and asking "why", it doesn't mean I don't feel badly about what happened. It does mean that the struggle to maintain sanity in an insane world does require me to maintain some perspective.

Lisa B. said...

Thanks for commenting, Mr. Pants ;-)

Elayne said...

I wouldn't say you're being flippant at all. Just had a discussion of this very issue here:

As you can see there are plenty of people who agree with your sentiments.

htrouser said...

As I observed in my rambling musings on my super-secret blog, sadly human beings seem to work by proximity. It shouldn't be the case, and we should fight it.

I agree with Mr Pants that we should be as outraged and saddened (and other adjectives that have been appropriated and hackneyed by the news media) by the daily death toll in Iraq and Darfur as we are by those at Virginia Tech. Not to mention the 30,000 deaths by gun fire in the US each year that happen incrementally, or in people's houses, at the hands of close family members (statistically the worst killers of all).

But we're emotional creatures, and that colors our responses. I knew someone who was killed. Not that well, and it doesn't give me a special monopoly on outrage or empathy. But it was someone I spent a week at the beach with, and whose widow is the good friend of a good friend. And that's made this hit home way, way more than if I hadn't known someone. Similarly, I spend an awful lot of time at a university, which again, I suppose just by the way our imaginations self-indulgently work, makes all of this more real. Not that I think particularly that it can or will happen where I work (or that much can be done aside from a total fucking ban on all firearms, immediately). But it does make it more real.

I don't think Bunch of Pants was being flippant at all. Or rather, our public discourse is so polluted, and the currency of emotions so debased by their use in the news media (TV especially), that one of the only weapons we gave against the *real* trivialization of all of this (Brian Williams, false sincerity, Bush mentioning the Second Amendment in the same breathe as his sympathy for the victims, Democrats saying that they can't take on the issue of gun control because they might not get elected... the list goes on and on) is something that can look a lot like flippancy, but like humor and irony and cynicism is one of the few pieces of armor we have left against the sheer volume and pungency of the bullshit that surrounds us, and which most people barely notice.

Phew. That was supposed to be a short comment. I guess I'm pissed off.