by E.C. Fish on July 23, 2012

ISSUE OF THE WEEK — TRUE CRIME: At risk of seeming callous, the mass shooting in Aurora, Colorado, early Friday morning (the “Massacre At The Movies,” as newspaper headline writers and television chyron artists tagged it) brings to mind nothing so much as the question of why we react to such events the way we do. Certainly the attention paid to such incidents is all out of proportion to their actual scale — a billion-plus people go to the movies in any given year and seventy of them were shot on Friday, a percentage with many zeroes after the decimal point. What can such an incident teach us about the general case, about American life as it is actually lived? Diddly-squat.

Still, such events are covered according to what now has become a well-honed media script. Part of this has to do with the editorial doctrine, “If it bleeds, it leads.” As a news story, such shootings are literally spectacular, crammed with violent action and touching human drama and opportunities for “expert” commentary. Spectacles, in turn, make handy symbols and lend themselves to the riding of a million hobbyhorses across the media field. The Aurora incident was particularly rich in this regard, inspiring discussions of movie violence in addition to the usual debates on gun control, public morality, and the inevitable nutjob conspiracy theories.

None of this will likely change anything. There will be a brief spate of attention to cinema security, adding another stage to the sad farce of security theater we’ve all been participating in since 9/11. There will be speeches and ceremonies and calls for healing, which will only have real meaning to the people who were actually affected. James Holmes will take his place in the Quiet Loners Hall of Fame. And we’ll forget all about this. Until next time.

WHO TO WATCH OUT FOR: Actually, one thing that this incident is bound to do is to add to our paranoid social folklore about homicide. In a society that invites us to watch several playacted murders a week in the name of entertainment, it is inevitable that many of us fear the murderous stranger, the serial killer, the deranged lone gunman. It’s also kind of silly; statistically, we’d be better off taking precautions against food poisoning or falls in the home. Violent crime rates, which by definition are always too high, are nonetheless historically low and falling. When murders do happen, they are far more likely to be perpetrated by those closest to us — friends, family, spouses, partners — than by a stranger. And those interested in taking a good hard look at the person who is most likely to be responsible if one dies by intentional human action are advised to get to the nearest mirror.

It might be worth thinking about the degree to which our fear of one another in this culture contributes to the kind of social atomization that allows aberrations like James Holmes to develop in the first place.

IN MEMORIAM: I was saddened to hear of the passing of Everett W. “Ev” Berg, an excellent high school social studies teacher who taught me a good chunk of what I know about representative democracy and one of the kindest, warmest, most decent souls it has ever been my pleasure to meet. As a teacher, running coach, and active citizen, Mr. Berg contributed immeasurably to his community. As a Korean War veteran and active reservist, Colonel Berg (Ret.) contributed immeasurably to us all. He is one of the first people I think about when I hear of education cuts and teacher layoffs, or when teacher salaries are denigrated as needless and wasteful public spending. Ev Berg earned every penny.

PROFILES IN COWARDICE: On Tuesday, Senate Republicans filibustered the DISCLOSE Act, which would have instituted transparency requirements on political donations over $10,000 and, according to Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY), would thereby have exposed those donors to “harassment and intimidation.” Said donors, who were freed from any other constraints by the Citizens United opinion, are — thanks solely to the efforts of the preponderant beneficiaries of their largesse — free to continue their activities unconstrained by any accountability whatsoever.

These donors are now free to offer unlimited support to any cause or candidate without consequence or criticism. They are safe, for example, from those who might want to avoid doing business with a company or individual for fear of having some of their dollars sponsor, for instance, a smear campaign. The result is a politics completely devoid of anything resembling courage of conviction.

Those of you who work for a living are reminded that you have no equivalent rights. And fans of irony are invited to contemplate the fact that the party protecting the anonymity of its donors is also the party pushing for the identification of each and every voter by photo ID.

FISH TAKES A HOLIDAY: I will be on vacation next weekend and will be far too busy having fun to wrap much of anything. I’ll be back here, with souvenirs and a nice tan, on August 4th.

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E.C. Fish is the editor and publisher of The Spleen.

{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

John Idstrom July 23, 2012 at 5:56 am

In the age of unkempt long-hairs, Ev Berg kept it high and tight. A man of uncommon decency and dignity. Anything I accomplished as runner, I owe to him. Any human decency I have have, also to his credit.


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