The US, Denial and the Culture of Violence
As I sat in the student center at my university yesterday, I got a chilling reminder of the shootings at Virginia Tech earlier this week. I looked around at the faces of people I didn't know and thought about their families and my own family and how awful it would be if something like that were to happen here. How would we recover?
What some are calling the worst shooting in United States history, the death of 32 Virginia Tech students was indeed deplorable. The media circus that followed was also deplorable. Shouldn't the families and victims be given some privacy to deal with the tragedy?
But also what is it about these isolated incidents that capture the national imagination? As other bloggers have noted, last weekend 65 Iraqis died and just yesterday another 183 in Baghdad alone. Why the hypocrisy? So far in 2007 there have been 27 deaths in Oakland County alone. Why have none of those deaths made headline news? Why does America only care about certain people's deaths? Do some people just deserve to die?
The strategic manipulation of stories by the mass media is to remind us that we had nothing to do with the problem. The solution this time has been simple, young Asian man, "loner," "mentally ill," certainly not one of our brightest and best, a character that rarely enters public discourse, and usually in the periphery. It gives us a scapegoat to not turn the attention back to ourselves, the possibility that the US produces a culture of violence and this isn't one isolated incident, but a continuum of death and bloodshed that has made this country what it is today. If we are not honest about this reality, I don' think it is possible for us to prevent this type of atrocity in the future.
As conservatives immediately talk about how this would not have happened if everyone had guns, neocons try and trace this students motivation to Islamo-fascist doctrine, and politicians underhandedly spin the tragedy to fit with their campaign, it is clear the point has been missed. And is gun proliferation plus increased security going to make us safer? I mean I know dumping out the liquid in your contact case makes you feel *much* safer on the airplane, but I mean really.
The United States is guilty by setting a precedent of violence, historically and today. There is a connection between our unjust invasion of Iraq with these examples of violence. If we don't accept that, we won't be able to prevent these things from happening in the future.
Finally, the media frenzy around this has been unbelievable. From the immediate release that he is an Asian man (they never say the White man, do they?) to making a spectacle of the grieving families (I certainly couldn't watch the news) I thought I would round up some of the best articles I came across about different ways that we can learn from the events of earlier this week.
One of the first and most powerful journals I read was a student at Virginia Tech writing in his livejournal in real time about the event. Also, Earl Ofari Hutchinson takes on the shootings being a wake-up call for the increase in violence on college campuses. Salon's Joe Eaton talks about how this can be compared to 9/11 since Asians started fleeing the campus immediately with fear of backlash and along the same lines Andrew Lam takes on the "please let it be another Asian," mentality that hits the people when our obsession with finding the perpetrator takes over and the hate crimes it motivates.
But alas, this story isn't even in the top headlines anymore. How fast things are deleted from the forefront of national attention.