Monday, January 10, 2011

don't answer that, it's rhetorical.

The little girl, the nine year old who was killed in Saturday's shooting in Arizona, she was born on September 11, 2001. She'd just been elected to her third-grade student council, and went to see Congresswoman Giffords to stimulate a budding interest in politics. Think of that: she entered the world on the date of one act of terrorism and exited it by means of another.

An act of terrorism. I'm not sure if I've heard this kind of language around what happened at the Safeway in Tuscon. Which is interesting to me, because language has been a big deal in the fallout of this tragedy. Keith Obermann put out an editorial about rhetoric and language of violence right after the shooting --and a friend of mine critiqued it, and he also linked to a really cool article in the Atlantic, keep clicking to find it. A sheriff in the area connected these actions to political rhetoric from the climate in Arizona, and is now being condemned and judged and distanced by a ton of people in the media. Malibu Barbie and her brood are being chastised for some target list they've put out, and are rabidly defending their use of this kind of language. Fascinating that after such human life is destroyed that language is the first thing that people start to talk about: the why of a disaster like this is in the language. That's the reason I'm a writer.

The thing I notice is that people who are called on to comment and respond to the shooting keep calling the suspect "a monster", "a deranged individual", a lone, crazy gunman with little to no evidence of this having been anything more than a random act of violence. Why is that? Don't get it twisted: I'm sure this guy is not well, is mentally unstable. But why do we need to strip him of his humanity when we talk about his actions and motivations?

Because, Jess, you say, he stripped so many of their humanity; turnabout is fair play. But I don't know. Maybe this guy is crazy, and maybe he acted alone, but maybe this isn't so random. Maybe he's angry about a lot and thought he was out of options. Maybe he wanted to have his voice heard, and thought the only way to do it was to smear blood and brain all over parking lot tarmac. Maybe he's not a monster; maybe he's just a guy.

That's the reason that I think we're all in such a hurry to call this guy crazy, to chalk him up as a nut job, to make this the random violence of a deranged man and not an act of terrorism.

My Honey pointed out that the vernacular in this country makes acts of terrorism committed only by brownies: The Oklahoma City bombing was an act of terrorism, he says, but does the nation remember it that way, the way that the remember the Twin Towers bombings as acts of terrorism? Tim McVeigh was one of ours, he was no towelheaded, camel jockey Muslim. He was a good ol' boy. He wonders if this shooting will linger in our collective memory as an act of terrorism--which is what it is.

I'd argue that given the path of the rhetoric conversation that the odds are slim. Everyone wants to write this guy off as a nut job, so that the pain and fear we feel is a little less real, so that instead of vulnerable, we are brave, fearless, indestructible. Not only do we need to make what might have been a political statement into an apolitical violent expression, but we need to keep the same dark face on terrorism. If people who blend in as easily as these men do can violate and destroy our safety and our freedom, then we are never safe.

1 comment:

twunch said...

The trouble with madness, with unreasoning violent craziness, is when I run into I continually swish it around inside my brain attempting to make some sense out of it. As though, through my own specialness and dedication, I can decode what was going on inside the mind of another person. It might be the Virginia Tech Mass Murderer, it might be the Columbine Kids, Kipland Kinkel, Squeaky Frome, Dahmer, McVeigh, Chapman, Gacy- the notion always seems to be that by better understanding true madness, I can stop it- or short of that, circumvent it from hurting me or my loved ones.
More and more, I think that is a fantasy.
There is a preponderance of evidence to suggest that this man was not right. My own (familial) experiences of schizophrenia were immediately called to mind when I watched this guy's youtube work. Possibly it's all a subtly executed act, but I can only respond based on my own feelings- and pending more information, I feel that this man was a crazy person.
I don't know that it is because he is white that I feel that I feel that he is a crazy person- though I also understand that I am not always cognizant of my own biases.
But what he did- the murder of a nine year old girl- the murder of five other people- the deliberate grievous bodily harm of a dozen other people- unless it was to advance a political cause is crazy.
The willful desire to inflict mayhem upon society is fundamental sociopathic. Perhaps that sociopathy can be classified into a political context- but I haven't seen any evidence to support that.

I give you credit: you've compelled to write three or four paragraphs without saying very much. Thanks for your thoughtful piece.