Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Virginia Tech

When I was posting my suncatcher pictures yesterday, I wish I could say I was in blithe ignorance of the Virginia Tech shooting. But I wasn't--I had heard on the radio that it had happened, and that one person had been killed. At that stage, it didn't really engage me enough to stop me in my tracks. It was just part of the background of violence and sadness pumped out through the media to keep us afraid and sell the proverbial More Papers (and then look at the pretty ads so consumer culture can grind on unimpeded). After the first report, I noted how close the date was to the Columbine anniversary, and I thought, "thank goodness that's all, just one person." And I didn't feel upset enough by a school shooting with only one casualty to disrupt what I had planned to blog about.

How messed up is that? But I don't think my reaction was unusual. We need a lot of violence heaped on a lot more senseless violence to stop what we're doing and talk about it because there's so much of it coming at us every day. Usually at a remove, but damn, I know what it's like to be closer to it. I hate living in this violent, disjointed culture. This is the moment in the tirade of despair when Americans on the crunchy left say they want to move to Canada, which I don't, but I understand the impulse to say it. I feel like I'm trapped in this violent world I would never have chosen--where a school shooting prompts politicians to make public statments in favor of guns!

I know that the student who did the killing wasn't American by birth or nationality, but he was surely American by his actions.

For what a clear-eyed Brit has to say on the topic, head over to Relaxed Parents.


(un)relaxeddad said...

I think a lot of people get murdered in Canada - certainly no more than in most American cities. I don't think you should be so hard on the USA. UK culture produced football hooligans and an all-pervasive culture of binge drinking. Not to mention the class system still burdening Anglo-Saxon culture in so many areas. I don't think I need remind a converted Jew as to what German culture came out with (and the seeds where all there before WW1). And so on. America just does it all bigger and more publically than anyone else.
But none of the above is a reason not to say "This is wrong - there's a better way to run a society". Which is what you're doing. Which is great! Thanks for the link - sorry about preaching.

S. said...

(un)relaxed dad, if ya preach here you're going to get a response. But I don't think you mind some give and take.

There was a graphic going around after the 2004 election here that showed North America divided into a blue (i.e. Democratic) "United States of Canada" and a red (Republican) "Jesusland." You may have seen it. For Americans on the left, Canada often functions as a symbol of escape into the enlightened country we wished we had--national health, lower crime, bilingual, more polite, less able to generate international hostility, etc.

Of course it's idealized and having French Canadians in my family tree I don't much buy into it, but I realized as I was barreling along in my post that I had come to the point where I was facing that fantasy of escaping this culture. And it's not my fantasy: I don't want to escape it, I want to change it--which is even less likely to happen.

Football hooligans and binge drinkers are a far cry from a public life punctuated by disturbed young men destroying dozens of lives at a time. I understand that there's quite a lot of violence, but however brutal a pub brawl is, it remains on the level of individuals against individuals, not one person mowing down a crowd. It's significant that you live in a country where the police force is still largely unarmed. (I do know this is changing--I keep up with modern British life via detective novels as well as blogs, so I'm oddly more conversant with UK policing than US.)

Here we live with the knowledge that anyone--the guy in the car next to you, the shopkeeper at the corner store, the teenaged boys taking up more than their share of the sidewalk--can reasonably be assumed to be armed. What I was trying to get at in this post is that when you live in a culture characterized by the presence of guns and gun violence you tune it out or rationalize it as being contained in some subset of the culture. You tell yourself it only happens to someone else (usually someone poor, young, black, urban, male, and involved in the drug trade). In some cases you use it as an excuse to get your own gun--not thinking through what owning a gun actually does to the chances of someone in your household catching a bullet.

(For the record, I spent one morning shooting guns at targets a few years back and would do it again if I had the chance, but I would never own one.)

My own denial was destroyed in January when my friend was killed by an intruder in her home, who shot her in the neck and went on to shoot her husband (he survived and moved to Canada, but he's Canadian). I know how much damage one death can do, and yet when I thought only one person had been killed at VA Tech my reaction was basically "oh, one person's no big deal." The national denial is so deep that we only get shaken by the gun deaths of people we don't know when the violence is as flamboyant as it was at Virginia Tech.

Which of course is why flamboyant violence appeals to a certain subset of psychically damaged young American men.

(un)relaxeddad said...

See what you mean - I agree with all of that, of course, but feel awkward as a non-American pointing out faultlines in US culture. ON the other hand, my mother's actually a US citizen so I shouldn't be so precious about it.
I can't imagine what it must be like to lose someone in such a senseless way - thanks for being so open about it and it very much puts your post into context for me.