Wednesday, December 19, 2012

The Wider Implications of Sandy Hook Elementary School

I blogged on Monday with some thoughts about the dead children in Connecticut.  Children.  I remain stunned and saddened, along with the nation.

Since then I ran across a couple other viewpoints that are definitely worth sharing.  This is a long post, and please forgive me for asking you to read it all.

From The Rude Pundit (on 17 Dec), who talks about cultural influences, including violent video games and movies:

And as far as cultural influences, I would say that a nation that sanctions capital punishment, use of extreme force by the police in many situations that don't call for it, and the murder of people overseas by drones is a nation that has stated, in a quite official way, that violence is the answer to one's problems. I would say that as far as unintended effects go, those things have done more damage to the American psyche than all the versions of Grand Theft Auto we could play.
The first descriptions of Lanza have talked about his mental illness, but they have also talked about the video games that he played. You could lock yourself in a room and get into Resident Evil 6 until your hands were bloody from pushing buttons. Let's say it warps your brain in some way that it wasn't warped before. It's not likely, but let's say it made you bloodthirsty for real, not zombie or creature, blood. If you don't have access to guns and large magazines, you are not going to do what Lanza did. It's that simple. No, really, it's that simple. Bottom line. Ask any cop, any member of the military, any responsible gun owner. Secure the weapons. Always secure the weapons.

Next up: A Boing Boing post (15 Dec) featuring Roger Ebert's thoughts in 2003 on the Columbine shootings:

Let me tell you a story. The day after Columbine, I was interviewed for the Tom Brokaw news program. The reporter had been assigned a theory and was seeking sound bites to support it. "Wouldn't you say," she asked, "that killings like this are influenced by violent movies?" No, I said, I wouldn't say that. "But what about 'Basketball Diaries'?" she asked. "Doesn't that have a scene of a boy walking into a school with a machine gun?" The obscure 1995 Leonardo Di Caprio movie did indeed have a brief fantasy scene of that nature, I said, but the movie failed at the box office (it grossed only $2.5 million), and it's unlikely the Columbine killers saw it.

The reporter looked disappointed, so I offered her my theory. "Events like this," I said, "if they are influenced by anything, are influenced by news programs like your own. When an unbalanced kid walks into a school and starts shooting, it becomes a major media event. Cable news drops ordinary programming and goes around the clock with it. The story is assigned a logo and a theme song; these two kids were packaged as the Trench Coat Mafia. The message is clear to other disturbed kids around the country: If I shoot up my school, I can be famous. The TV will talk about nothing else but me. Experts will try to figure out what I was thinking. The kids and teachers at school will see they shouldn't have messed with me. I'll go out in a blaze of glory."

In short, I said, events like Columbine are influenced far less by violent movies than by CNN, the NBC Nightly News and all the other news media, who glorify the killers in the guise of "explaining" them. I commended the policy at the Sun-Times, where our editor said the paper would no longer feature school killings on Page 1. The reporter thanked me and turned off the camera. Of course the interview was never used. They found plenty of talking heads to condemn violent movies, and everybody was happy.
And about the timing of trying to fix this problem for the future, for the children, we have Skippy (14 Dec):

the right will tell you that now is not the time to discuss gun regulations.
if 4 or 5 nuclear reactors melted down in the period of 3 months, killing dozens of people, would they say "now is not the time to discuss nuclear regulation"?
if a brand of automobiles began exploding for no reason, killing several families in a space of a few weeks, would they say "now is not the time to examine this brand of automobile"?
if 20 children died from tainted peanut butter, would they say "now is not the time to regulate peanut butter"?
now is the time.
And a personal fav of mine, Mike The Mad Biologist, whose cutting wit slices and dices before you know what hit you:

Someday, I will live in a country where birth control pills can be bought freely over the counter, and you will have to speak to a medical professional to buy ammunition for high-powered rifles. Imagine if you did need a prescription to buy ammo. You might have to answer a couple of questions about why you want 6,000 rounds. Perhaps the doctor might decide it’s in your best interest to discuss all options. If a doctor became a ‘bullet mill’, we could shut him down.  
Admittedly, you might run into a medical professional who refuses to let you buy bullets and demands a religious exemption. Could be a problem, but you can always just find another ammunition provider.
Make love, not homicide, baby.

Now on to Garry Wills (15 Dec) at the New York Review of Books, on our gun-worshiping culture:

Read again those lines, with recent images seared into our brains—“besmeared with blood” and “parents’ tears.” They give the real meaning of what happened at Sandy Hook Elementary School Friday morning. That horror cannot be blamed just on one unhinged person. It was the sacrifice we as a culture made, and continually make, to our demonic god. We guarantee that crazed man after crazed man will have a flood of killing power readily supplied him. We have to make that offering, out of devotion to our Moloch, our god. The gun is our Moloch. We sacrifice children to him daily—sometimes, as at Sandy Hook, by directly throwing them into the fire-hose of bullets from our protected private killing machines, sometimes by blighting our children’s lives by the death of a parent, a schoolmate, a teacher, a protector. Sometimes this is done by mass killings (eight this year), sometimes by private offerings to the god (thousands this year).
The gun is not a mere tool, a bit of technology, a political issue, a point of debate. It is an object of reverence. Devotion to it precludes interruption with the sacrifices it entails. Like most gods, it does what it will, and cannot be questioned. Its acolytes think it is capable only of good things. It guarantees life and safety and freedom. It even guarantees law. Law grows from it. Then how can law question it?
Last, to emphasize my long-held contention that our actions in the Middle East will have adverse international and generational influences, there's Whiskey Fire on the day of the killings (14 Dec), tying what happened at Sandy Hook Elementary School to what we did in Iraq:

If you're a normal person or close to it, hearing about what happened in Connecticut is horrifying, even if you're nowhere near Connecticut and you don't know anyone involved personally. And if something like this does happen near you, even if you don't know anyone involved, that sense of horror is amplified. And the trauma of course is amplified catastrophically if you do know anyone affected, or involved. It's awfulness that never really goes away.

Whole generations of Iraqis are going to be incredibly messed up. I'd be surprised if there are any Iraqis unaffected by violent trauma. And the US went to war so... blithely, would be the best possible adverb to use right there.

I'm sure all of us will continue to be hugging our kids a lot more in the days to come, but we need to follow our hearts in the direction of informed action.  You know: For. The. Children.


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