A society in denial

NEW JERSEY - When the shooting began in that movie-theater in Aurora, Colorado last week, the movie came to an end. After the shooting stopped, a new movie began. Call it the movie of denial, illusion and happy endings. It is the national movie that has been playing since the dawn of the American republic.

Lee Siegel,

29 de julho de 2012 | 03h00

Bertolt Brecht invented the idea of the “alienation-effect” as a theatrical device. Instead of a play’s finale consisting of neat resolutions, Brecht recommended endings full of suffering, pain and injustice. That way, he reasoned, audiences would leave so unfulfilled, indignant and perhaps enraged, that they would become intolerant of the social injustice around them. I wish the American media would make use of Brecht’s convention.

What happened in Aurora was random, meaningless, senseless, devoid of a narrative. The 24-year-old man who committed the murders, James Holmes, does not fit into any kind of typical profile of a mass killer. There is no type of the mass killer. The only constant is the guns mass murderers use to kill. But because infantile America cannot muster the courage to stop the gun lobby, and because romantic, eternally innocent America is fanatic about happiness and happy endings, the American commenting class turns its attention to the men who hold the guns. And by the time, the commenters and experts have finished their scrutinizing and analyzing, they have woven a tidily structured tale, comforting in its illuminations and explanations.

So from “The Dark Knight Rises” we now are in the midst of “The Heroic Tale of the Aurora Massacre.” Many of the people in that theater did indeed act heroically. Tears come to my eyes when I think of the young man – he grew up in the next town over from where I live – who threw himself in front his girlfriend to save her. He was killed by a shower of bullets, but she survived. Yet by concentrating on the heroic deeds of the victims and not on the heinous actions of the killer, the media implies that, far from being a senseless atrocity, the whole event was an affirmation of the human spirit. I find that disgusting and depraved. One of the conclusions one could draw from such a perverse affirmation is that the sick permissiveness of current gun laws should not be revised. People, you see, can endure anything. But dead people cannot endure anything, and neither can people maimed, mentally and/or physically, for life.

After the twisted caricature of what really happened in the theater that night, we were then treated to another major motion picture: “The Story of What Makes A Killer Tick.” Holmes, we were informed, had failed the oral exams for his doctorate in neuro-science. He had always been “awkward.” It seems that he never had a girlfriend. Despite the failed oral exam, he was a “brilliant” scientist; and, of course, braininess and social awkwardness equal mass murder. Once again, there is no reason to change the gun laws. Just be on the lookout for shy intellectual types and report them to the police as soon as you encounter them.

No amount of insight into Holmes’ life is going to console anyone whose life was touched by the massacre. The fact is that the information about his life and personality that is emerging now is entirely boring. He is either evil, if you are a religious person,or, if you are a secular rationalist, he is insane. In either case, he is a bland and undifferentiated entity. Evil and insanity are extreme, levelling conditions. Whatever made Holmes an individual vanished into a generic category the second he started killing.

But the public posturing and storytelling continue, even when the solution to the problem is staring everyone in the face. Right after the massacre, New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg took to the airwaves to castigate Obama, Romney and the entire political establishment for their passiveness with regard to gun control. “Soothing words,” Bloomberg said, are fine, but they are no substitute for action that will lead to real change. Good for the mayor! Unfortunately, his indignant words are just as culpable as the soothing words he deplored.

For Mayor Bloomber is worth 18 billion dollars. Eighteen billion dollars. That is more than the national budget of a small country. The obstacle to gun control legislation is the National Rifle Association, which contributes millions of dollars every year to legislators who then rebuff any effort to limit Americans’ access to guns. Bloomberg could take just a fraction of his fortune – say, 1 billion dollars – top the NRA’s best offer and buy off, in the form of the legal bribe known as the “campaign contribution,” every pro-gun politician in the country. In two years, America would – lo and behold! – actually make it illegal to own a semi-automatic weapon.

Better, however, to grandstand and eloquently condemn your peers from an Olympian height. It is grander, and more heroic-seeming. And, who knows, maybe someone will turn Bloomberg and his bold position into a fast-paced action film. Then the shooting can begin again, and so can the denying and deluding storytelling.

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