It’s not time to talk about gun regulation when people use guns to kill for fun, politics or revenge. It’s not time to talk about human contributions to climate change when hurricanes sustain category five winds for 36 hours or dump five feet of rain in a few days. It’s not time to talk about health care when GOP politicians are rushing a vote on damaging legislation through secret meetings. It’s not time to talk about the antiquated electoral college despite two of the last five popular vote count winners losing the election. Continue reading
Teaching Korean kindergarteners about Rosa Parks involves a lot of backstory. The story doesn’t begin on that bus in Alabama. Its roots are profoundly sad and incomprehensible. I found myself saying things like, “White people didn’t like black people,” and really struggling to find a simple answer to their, “Why?” It is an oversimplification for sure, but slavery and its legacy in America is both undeniably understood as a construct of capitalism yet difficult to comprehend in a moral context. Continue reading
The Internet helps us keep up with trending topics such as Toronto mayor Rob Ford’s amazingly embarrassing but slightly humanizing descent into crack-smoking, drunken hilarity, awesome viral videos like JCVD doing badass splits on the side mirrors of two massive big rigs, and moral outrage through informative posts about gay bashing, dolphin killing or suffering in general. Sometimes there is a post that comes through the newsfeed on Facebook that touches me, or hurts me, or makes me LOL (:>) Continue reading
The always delicious, sometimes obfuscating gay rights fast food chain Chick-Fil-A had a slogan that read: “We didn’t invent the chicken sandwich, we just perfected it.” They are correct; their chicken clouds my thoughts some days knowing that a feast of crispy nuggets and hot sauce dripping, extra pickled, peanut oil fried chicken sandwiches are so far out of my reach. I love that restaurant. Waffle fries, when salted correctly, beat all other fried potatoes. I’m pretty sure that they could not only fund anti-gay groups, but also fund pro-gay groups and still stay in business. I’d bet all my savings that despite their stance on homosexual relationships, there was a gay couple in a Chick-Fil-A the day after the news broke sitting in a corner booth, guiltily scarfing down fried yard bird saying to each other: “Getting married isn’t THAT important, is it?”
All chicken aside, I believe the USA could have a similar slogan to illustrate their collective history as a 237-year-old nation: “We didn’t invent gun violence, we just perfected it.” America loves guns more than any fried food, including Twinkies, Oreo’s or butter. Our media reports it daily, our movies glorify its power, our military uses them with devastating efficacy and our major cities are polluted with their influence. We all know the news of last December in Newtown, of last summer in Denver, of VT, Columbine and so on. There is gun violence all over the world, but it seems the “New World” has the most frightful statistics of late. There are the known offenders of Brazil, Venezuela, Colombia, Mexico and, of course, USA.
Africa is still the world leader of total murders; however, the majority of those murders are not GUN murders. More likely machete or strangling, who knows? I don’t claim to understand much about that large, intimidating continent, besides, it’s not like Africa is looked to as a stable continent in the forefront of civil rights and world peace. Yet, I doubt America is either anymore. How could we be? We’ve been involved in so many wars and skirmishes and interventions and secret bombings and coups and overthrows that the world may well see us as a hindrance instead of a helper.
American foreign policy is well known to be destructively self-interested, and that’s great, if you’re an American. Other countries and other innocent people have not fared so well. I’m digressing only to show how our obsession with guns led to the overarching, omnipresent military industrial complex that we find ourselves so firmly rooted to today. Americans must share in this blame. Americans are on TV expounding the virtues of a well-armed populace. There are those worried about some futuristic dystopia where Americans follow the helpless (read: GUNless) citizens of Cambodia or USSR and are taken hostage by a tyrannical government hell-bent on enslaving its own populace to toil in the desolate coal mines of West Virginia and oil fields of now treeless and lifeless Alaska to power the thought police helicopters that report to King Obama. As if a ragtag band of bearded, underwear recycling, soup can stockpiling Doomsday Preppers would be able to take on the most efficient and proficient army of the modern world because they were able to express their 2nd Amendment rights to own a few handguns and an AR-15. It’s a flawed argument that we need armaments to protect ourselves from our own government. Another flawed argument is the old: “Guns don’t kill people, people do.” That didactically silly idea stops as soon as you accept that sometimes a gun misfires, is dropped and goes off, an errant drive-by gunshot kills a pedestrian or gun is mistakenly thought to be unloaded. Guns kill people much easier than knives. People are required to operate them, and humans make errors.
So, what is it about America and the serial killers, the gun obsessions, the self-defense theories, and the 2nd Amendment proselytizing? We were born through revolt is the easy answer. But, I think it’s more ego based. I think America likes being the dangerous place it is. I think it is in our national character to tolerate killing because we have been exposed to and justified it for so long in our politics, cities and our lives. We have over 13,000 murders a year, political assassinations, televised suicides, murder/suicides, abortion, death penalty, DUI manslaughters, as well as the seven major wars of the last 100 years. Death is all around us, as it is in any country, but somehow America reacts differently. We are sad and preachy to ease the pain, and then when someone suggests change to prevent another tragedy, there is uproar. What are we hiding? Who are we protecting? The NRA is the scapegoat of liberals, but they, like any other group in a capitalistic society is guarding the bottom line. It just so happens that their bottom line is soaked in blood, whereas somebody like the pharmaceuticals bottom line is doused in overmedicated mental illness and depressed teenagers on Prozac.
Why don’t we look for an answer with our greatest natural resource: Hollywood. Our last ten best picture winners: 5 of the last 10 have featured guns in major roles, and besides The Artist, The King’s Speech (during a World War) and Slumdog Millionaire (set in a very dangerous place), the other two were violent—with a female boxer dying and a Middle Earth war. Violence is sexier than sex sometimes—if sexy can mean attractive and interesting. It’s at least more tolerated than sex. TV and movies don’t have to edit out the atrocities of death, but damned if a nipple slips at halftime or a thong is shown during primetime! Even our comedies have guns: Dumb and Dumber, “Harry, you’re alive! And you’re a terrible shot.” Our favorite childhood movies: The Goonies—the Fratellis have a gun in almost every scene, (although the guns are more props to show they’re bad guys.) Even romantic comedies can sometimes work a little gun violence into the mix: The Bodyguard, Whitney was targeted by a stalker with a gun disguised as a camera. Also, it seems that all our futuristic movies involve guns. It’s like we can’t even imagine a future where there are none. Even Demolition Man, where there was a leader crazy enough to completely outlaw guns, thereby turning everyone into calm law-abiding citizens eating Taco Bell and never cursing; it turned out he was actually crazy and purposely allowed a gun-loving criminal and a gun-loving cop to blow that peaceful world up with a few leftover guns from the museum. Even the imaginative, inspired writers of southern California can’t create a world where gun violence doesn’t exist. In the 21st century, we look to our celebrities for guidance, and if they’re all firing guns and surviving to Live Free and Die Hard again, or surviving a Skyfall and multiple gun attacks, then why can’t we?
More gun legislation probably won’t help. It’s not like we pass a law and all the crazies and baddies will show up like Kevin Spacey in Se7en and turn themselves in to the authorities with bloody hands and admit they were wrong. The 2nd Amendment protects our right to have guns, but if we’re going to get all Constitutional, let’s let the 1st Amendment out of the bag also and get some real free speech and real freedom of assembly. Don’t push away those Occupy Wall Street people because they don’t fit Wall Street’s greedy, insatiable agenda. Let the naked poets sing, let the NC-17 movies play; let the freedom of speech extend as far as we can take it. If you want no limits to what kinds of guns/ammo you can own including the maddeningly idiotic armor-piercing bullets, then lets have no limits on the other great freedoms. Allow a mosque in lower Manhattan, nudity on television, or protests by the insane and hopeless Westboro Baptist Church or the KKK. I think you can see the slippery slope of either more or less legislation. Those men who created America did a good job, but it is a different world now. Perhaps it’s better to have no naked chicks kissing on the channel opposite SpongeBob. Perhaps it’s better to keep religion in neutral areas where there wasn’t a massacre (tell that to any Native American tribe.) Perhaps it’s not a bad thing to limit ultra-effective killing machines and metal penetrating ammunition also.
America is a great country, a violent, hypocritical, generous, diverse country. We produce amazing people and products. We lead the world in many ways. Our goal in the future should be to lead the way to peace. The old Roman expression: “If you want peace, prepare for war” is apropos for this argument. We are certainly prepared for war, so perhaps peace is on the way. It most assuredly will have to start in the Homeland.
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.