Monday, January 10, 2011

Motives & Madness

Posted By on January 10, 2011, 9:28 PM

"I got some bad ideas in my head." -- Travis Bickle, Taxi Driver, 1976 ---

In the aftermath of Saturday's grim events in Tucson, national pundits and politicians are marinating in so much guilt, it's getting hard to stomach. 

From Keith Olbermann's quasi-apology/resolute tirade "We need to put the gun metaphors down" to Paul Krugman's New York Times column, "The Climate of Hate," there is a freshly born fear of people speaking their minds because, all too often, the product of people's minds is "vitriolic rhetoric" (as per Pima County Sheriff Clarence Dupnik). Some believe the caustic political bickering of recent times incites young men to go on a killing rampage, like elephants in musth.

Words like "repudiating" and "denouncing" and "scrubbing" are finding their way into editorials. I mean, if you think a 22 year old hangs on every word blathered by Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity and Glenn Beck, please, repudiate yourself.

But we all know the vitriol will creep back. When we better understand the infamy of Jared Loughner (I cross out his name to symbolically deny him the notoriety he craves), the 22-year-old suspect who reportedly fired into a peaceful crowd outside a Tucson Safeway--killing six, wounding 13 -- name-calling and saber-rattling will return.

For a guy who had little in life to brag about, in a matter of minutes, Loughner managed to achieve his dark celebrity, joining the ranks of Columbine High School shooters Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold, and even Utah's Trolley Square gunman, Sulejman Talovic -- young men whose best and final idea was to flail against being of little or no consequence in the world.

In 2004, Slate magazine published a piece that analyzed the motives of the Columbine shooters, noting that Klebold was depressed and Harris was a psychopath:

It wasn't just "fame" they were after—... —they were gunning for devastating infamy on the historical scale of an Attila the Hun. Their vision was to create a nightmare so devastating and apocalyptic that the entire world would shudder at their power.

There was indeed a shudder we all felt on Saturday, some of it from media and political players who felt twinges of guilt. Should we not speak of it here? Should we not report on the shooting or should the crime be played down to prevent copy cats? All seem to be up for discussion. (You can see I'm doing my part by crossing out the names.)

If only it were true that mass killers were activated by the media, by something we could turn on and off or filter like we do Internet spam -- I reckon the media would only report on fundraisers and lollipop conventions. If they honestly thought they could end violence of this magnitude by self-censoring, they'd do it -- and those that didn't would be called witches and burned at the stake. People might even think they were safer living in that world.

But we know it doesn't work because mass killers like Loughner have always been with us, long before Guglielmo Marconi harnessed radio waves and Philo T. Farnsworth pioneered television. Like earthquakes and tornadoes, they show up at the most inopportune times, hurting the innocent, leaving devastation in their wake, making us grasp at straws to explain their insanity, proving in the end we are all hostages to fate.



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