The course charted by our society is often powerfully alien to me.
I’m thinking about this because I’m thinking about 22 year-olds going on murderous rampages. Throughout history, every injustice has been paired with a justification; I’m intensely curious to see what explanations are ultimately made for last Saturday’s violence. But when I consider Jared Lee Loughner, and the world he was brought up in, there’s no running from the fact that it’s the same world my son lives in.
It’s old news that America is an incredibly violent place. Nudity offends the senses here more than images of weaponry. The iconography of war is mainly interpreted as energy, and possession of military-grade firearms is defended as a right.
See Football, America’s primary diversion (now entering it’s seasonal crescendo). Gladiatorial arenas, domination by force and amplified collisions via armor that allows one to (finally?) act with abandon. See the fervor of the need to dominate the competition.
See the way that America’s television news media covers war, or heralds the approach of any armed conflict. A 24-hour news cycle would, on paper, suggest the availability of time for a thoughtful consideration of all things. Instead we have countdown clocks, explosive motion graphics, and experts paid to speak excitedly of the “inevitability” of war.
See movie posters, even if you can’t stomach the movies themselves. I ride the subway to work daily, and I always examine the underlying forms of the large-format imagery that cover the passing stations. More often than not, I’m looking at a gun, am looking at a gun pointed at me, or am being asked to admire the weaponry carried by any of a long line of heroes.
See videogames. Of course, there are many genres, but high atop sales charts are hyper-real, first-person, deeply immersive, incredibly violent shooters. Many of these feature intricately woven narratives and truly brilliant storytelling, with visuals and audio to rival mainstream cinema. That this is the primary distillation of an art form that I regard as one of our society’s most promising, and potent, is telling unto itself.
See comic books, perhaps our most powerful communication art. Relegated to a cultural ghetto on account of the power fantasies that always drove commercial success, American comics have been aimed at adolescent boys for decades. Drama and violence proceed there on epic scales, thanks to the unlimited special effects budget brought to bear by the imaginations we all carry.
My son will be 5 in three weeks, and he knows that Wolverine has claws. Though I own many comic books, and look forward to sharing their content with him as he matures, I’ve not yet read any of them to him.
I can see too clearly the fabric of the world when I observe its texture reflected in my son’s eyes. There’s information that’s readily available to those that seek it. It’s in the air, the water, the culture; there’s no running from we’ve allowed to be created. I look into Jared Loughner’s eyes, and this much is clear.