Guns, Killing, MTV and The American Celebrity

Back in 1992, a new band named Pearl Jam made a seminal video of teenage angst, called “Jeremy.” “The boy was something that mommy wouldn’t wear.” The boy screamed and cried for attention and never got it. He felt awkward at school and felt awkward in his own skin. It’s the high school curse to never feel at ease anywhere you are. Eventually, after receiving many taunting’s, and returning the favor by punching his bullies; he bit the recess lady’s breast, which was something that nobody could forget. He was a troubled youth. One day, he entered class, back dropped by each child’s stark white clothing, representing their pure and innocent nature, and shot them all. “King Jeremy the wicked, ruled his world.” The lesson learned is that he made quite an impact on all of them. Their faces were frozen in terror, instead of laughing, pointing and jeering at him as before. Jeremy created the climax to his own grief, for what is more climactic than a public massacre.

I haven’t seen this video in many years, but I remember it like my backyard. We watched MTV every day of our early lives. There were great videos, shows and teenage entertainment for 24 hours a day. There were young VJ’s speaking our language and rappers who we tried to emulate, poorly. MTV, in the 90’s, was a flashing moment of teen culture, unsurpassed and incomparable to anything today. We watched videos by Nirvana, Soundgarden, Smashing Pumpkins, and Pearl Jam. Many of those videos had to do with bizarre, angry or misplaced people in this world. Nobody seemed to fit in; it was easy to identify with as a youngling. Even if you had friends, there was always a group in which you didn’t fit. Those 10 popular kids in everybody’s high school, that were such jerks and specimens of perfection, are now fat and unhappy, reminiscing about the “Glory Days.” Time moves on, only change is permanent, and we learn this after graduation. Only the prescient few can understand that high school doesn’t determine your life—unless you let it.

On April 20, 1999, I was in my friend’s basement eating chips and watching Simpsons re-runs when we were interrupted by a Fox breaking news story. Earlier that day, two armed students in trench coats attacked their classmates with automatic weapons, killing 13. They were “nerds”, picked on by “jocks” and decided to get revenge. Immediately, people blamed Marilyn Manson, video games or depression. These kids had warped minds, possibly strengthened by the deceptive ease of killing, dying and hitting reset in video games, but I doubt that was the main reason. They killed for power. They had no power in their world. They committed suicide, further proof that this was a way out, a way to show they had control and power over their lives and others. They wanted the actions to speak for themselves; they were too timid to face the aftermath. They were cowards, killing unarmed children and teachers.

We have seen other killing sprees like this since then in Norway, Virginia Tech, Fort Hood and now a movie theater in suburban Colorado. Many of these killers destroy themselves, along with their story and motive. We have little understanding of their psychology. The man in Denver, who invaded a midnight movie with bombs and a personal arsenal, was arrested and faces trial. There will certainly be interviews and studies done to figure out what went wrong inside of him. But, I believe it is the desire to be famous, combined with lack of discernible talent, and a dash of psychosis.

Famous for the wrong reasons is still famous. Kim Kardashian and Paris Hilton can attest to that fact. Although they didn’t kill anyone, they certainly have a bit of lunacy and a strong desire for fame. Our celebrity-obsessed culture bred into a society of bullied kids creates a potential mixture for fame-led hostility. Not everybody who had a bad time in grade school turns out to be a killer, but every killer had a bad time in grade school. Debatably, our formative years of birth to eight years old, determine our personality with minor fluctuations and changes. Are some people pre-determined, through nature or nurture, to be bullied and insulted? Are some people pre-determined for success, for failure, for fortune, for murder?

The debate also will arise again about gun control. Why were the Columbine and Aurora shooters both able to legally acquire heavy assault weapons? Guns are a part of American society and will never go away. The argument could be on whether we actually need such rapid-fire weapons for public purchase. The argument could be on why America is the global leader in homicide. There is no argument here. We cannot erase guns or homicide. We cannot erase hate or stupidity. We cannot really even hope to contain it. We cannot put metal detectors in every theater, school, restaurant, mall, gym, and nail salon. Trust is implied in society, and when broken, there are the police. As long as there are people who are willing to bring pain into the world, they will do so. It is unstoppable. However, there are also those who bring pleasure into the world.

At the mud festival this weekend, three well-meaning people with hope-filled eyes approached me and gave me a paper with a headline that read PEACE IS: and I had to fill in the blank. They were part of a World Peace Initiative, and had do-gooder written all over their pro-active, diplomatic faces. I know peace is subjective, and to some it may be a nice fire, with a bottle of wine and your lover, but I got the feeling they were hoping to end the world’s wars through charitable thoughts and nonviolent behavior. I don’t believe we are evolved enough to eradicate war. We all claim something as “ours.” As long as you claim something as your own, it can be taken from you, making you angry and wanting to fight for that thing. John Lennon’s “Imagine” is way beyond our capacity to comprehend. Imagine no possessions, imagine no religion, and imagine no countries. John, it’s more than “hard to do,” we simply can’t yet. Today, we meditate to calm our anxiety, we exercise to remove excess aggression, and we take drugs to ease away depression. We are in the middle of the evolutionary chain between the perceptible world of combative cavemen and the inexpressible beauty of ceaseless positive energy pulsing through us as radiating light beams. As long as we have no peace internally, we cannot have peace externally.

Nobody knows if “Jeremy” killed his classmates because he was mad at them or himself. Nobody knows if the V.T. or Aurora shooter was angry with his peers or disgusted by himself. We know that media isn’t responsible for their actions. We know that music isn’t responsible for it. We also know that the shroud of war for the past 11 years in America isn’t responsible for their actions. As the ridiculous t-shirt says: “Guns don’t kill people. I kill people.” It’s a way of ascribing personal responsibility to public actions. Guns aren’t the problem; people pull those triggers. It’s like blaming Ford for car accidents, or McDonald’s for selling fatty hamburgers. Competent adults made a decision, and sometimes, it’s the wrong one.

This wasn’t the first tragedy of people randomly killing in retribution for a shitty adolescence or for their desire for fame, and it won’t be the last. Gun control won’t stop it, friends and family can help, but it is merely a symptom of our society and we should feel indignation toward the perpetrators and sympathy for the victims, but not surprise or shock that it happened again.