Saturday, July 21, 2012

Mass Shooting in America (2/2): American Mythical Violence

When it comes to violence, there is something different that sets the United States apart from the rest of the world.
In his masterpiece, Gunfighter Nation, Richard Slotkin says this:
What is distinctly “American” is not necessarily the amount or kind of violence that characterizes our history but the mythic significance we have assigned to the kinds of violence we have actually experienced, the forms of symbolic violence we imagine or invent and the political use to which we put that symbolism. (p.13)
Slotkin sees it as one foundational element of the American narrative, which dates back to the Puritan Era and the Frontier stories of “captivity narrative” and "American hero-as-Indian-fighter".

In political terms, think of the prevalence of the WAR METAPHOR for example. From Johnson’s “War on Poverty”, Ford’s “War on Inflation”, to G.H Bush's "War on Drugs" or G W. Bush's "War on Terror".  American media even talk about the "Cultural War" within the nation.
This may not seem like much, since after all, these are 'just' metaphors. But the war metaphor implies policies that leave no room for compromise, especially in the domain of law and order. War metaphors favor binary views with a threatening Other. It excludes ideas and polarizes. It also makes violence seem like a normal part of life.
It also favors resolution of conflict through violence over, say, diplomacy. Beyond the argument as to whether wars are necessary, it must be noted that the United States has been almost consistently in some kind of war (declared or not) since WWII.

This rhetoric of war finds its roots in the Puritan dogma of absolute good and absolute evil, which tends to rationalize violence. Interestingly, religious rhetoric in U.S. politics today also tends to emphasize the God of the Old Testament, with His wrath and judgement over the Jesus of the New Testament, with His forgiving and somewhat passive attitude.

Violence in America has become mythical (in the sense of 'sacred'), just like guns, because it is seen as a necessary evil. This is clearly visible in popular culture, especially in superhero stories that depict impotent communities requiring an extraordinary outsider to cope with the evils in their midst. The underlying effect is to consider the hero's violence (and therefore ours) benign because it is the response to the apocalyptic fight between good and evil. (see Jewett ,Robert;  Lawrence, John Shelton; Captain America And The Crusade Against Evil: The Dilemma Of Zealous Nationalism)

Of course, I am not saying that superhero stories or war rhetoric should be blamed for the massacre in Colorado. And like the pro-gun people will certainly say, it is not the guns that killed people, but the owner of the gun. Yet, this sacredness of violence, not only in movies, but also in every day language helps create an atmosphere that, in addition to the availability of guns, may make lose canons more likely to see redemption or doom in some kind of mass killings. This is after all what he has been exposed to all his life.

Despite knowing little of the killer's motivation, I find it very perplexing that he should have claimed to be "the Joker".

There is probably no short term solution. I am certainly not advocating for censorship. But maybe this great nation should have a conversation about the meaning of violence.

Maybe, the negative consequences of violence should be also shown or talked about more. Maybe people should be less accepting of vigilantes like Zimmerman. Maybe, the violent past should be less mythified, and past wars (even WWII) less glorified.
Maybe people should be less shocked about sex and more about violence when it comes to kids.

And maybe young parents should not take their infants or babies to see Batman past midnight (or any other time for that matter.), and maybe they wouldn't if the consequences of exposing young kids to violent images was frowned upon or at least talked about at a national level.

NOTE: I was glad that I was not the only one baffled by the fact that some (young) parents apparently took their infants and babies to see Batman, given the violence of the movie.
Last night, NBC newsman Brian Williams asked a relevant question
 "A whole lot of parents woke up this morning across the country and said "what were young kids doing at that movie, at that hour in that theater?".
Here's what Ann Curry responded:
"I think the answer to that is something we all really know the answer to. and that is that parents, especially young parents need a break, like everyone else. So they were going because they heard so much about this movie  and everyone was so excited to see and it was just an opportunity for them to be together, to have a family moment."
An opportunity for them to be together"? Seriously?

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