The Right Lesson

Today is April 16, which was Dusty Springfield’s birthday. Before we get to today’s more sober topics, take a couple of minutes and listen to two Dusty classics:




This week’s International Holidays, for you to celebrate and savor (AND LEAVE COMMENTS!)

April 14 – International Lift a 40 to your Homies Day

April 15 – International Push a Button Day

April 16 – International Munchausen Day (Tracy Lynn wrote this one, and already someone has questioned her honor……gulp)

April 17 – International Tell Them Today Day

April 18 – International Covet Thy Neighbor’s Wife Day

April 19 – International Reflection Day

April 20 – International Pirate Day*
(*eye-patches and peg-legs optional)

Many great things to look at on Monkey Barn, highlighted by a short lesson about the history of the Lebron James Vogue Cover.

From the Vault: a look at the 10 Greatest Uses for our friend the Potato. Will Potato Chips make on the list? Probably. Will Mr. Potato Head? Probably not.


The Right Lesson

When I realized the one-year anniversary of the Virginia Tech Massacre was coming, I felt I should write about it. It seems trite, but in our 24-Hour News obsessed Media, a day changes everything, a week is forever, and a year later you are lucky if you remember scant details.

In other words, it is important to remember, if for no other reason than how quickly we forget.

However, my initial sadness at the campus shootings turned quickly to anger, first at the Media, who can never seem to decide if the Cloak of Banality or Venality looks better as they ruthlessly and shamelessly maximize their advantage like war profiteers, all while broadcasting from the village of Mendacity without ever batting an eye.

Soon came the other great Vultures of Tragedy, those politically inclined, desperate to shoehorn their agenda anyway they could to capitalize on a nation in shock; facts be damned.

(This reached a Fellini-esque level of absurdity on the Gun question, as zealots on both sides argued vociferously that greater gun restrictions might have prevented the murders, and that greater gun access might have done so as well.)

There was and is so much to be angry about; I struggled with what was the right lesson to highlight, to spend my capital of words here in this forum.

Beyond the vampiric opportunism of the News Media, so happy to have a New National Story to anchor their coverage that crocodile tears covered the ground, and past the up-jumping effrontery of the gun whackos (on both sides), there was the distressing lack of intelligence in the “one tinfoil-covered head size fits all” discussions of mental illness and mood disorders.

That a very troubled young man had slipped through the cracks of the System, had turned to violence when he passed a point of being helped through other means was a tragedy in and of itself, beyond the horror he caused. Yet by the end of the week any subtleties had been lost in that tableau, as it quickly became apparent that there were people who now felt that any and all who suffered health problems (and they are organic health problems) of a mental illness or mood disorder should be locked up and given a padded cell, lest they twitch wrong and scare everyone half to death.

That there are people out there, for whatever reason, so seriously disturbed that they need law enforcement and the courts to step in and protect society is not in question. That anyone who has ever taken Prozac or painted fingernails black should be in that group seemed to be the position of some.

How many people out there might have been “chilled,” as they like to call it, from seeking help for problems, problems that in no way rise to any level of escalated violence, because of the whitewashed discussion, where everything with the word “mental” is treated the same?

And speaking of whitewash, how hard is it to say someone’s name correctly? It seems like a trivial point, to ask for a level of civility when talking about a killer, but the complete early disregard for the killer’s actual name struck me as degradation to Asian-Americans across the country. Yes, it is true that for many Asians, westernizing their name can cause confusion, between the first and last name. Yet it would not seem to be that hard to get the details right. However, I heard anchor after anchor speaking of the killer by his first name only, something generally reserved for presidential candidates with visions of grand populism in their heads. Other times, the news people used the last name, but were trying to use the first name!

Then there was the early confusion as to the actual status of the offender. Was he Oriental? Asian? Chinese? Chinese-American? Did it matter? He was from over there, he came over here, and he killed ours! Did it matter that he had lived the vast majority of his life in America? No, it did not. Maybe if he had been white…..

(If there was a greater “conversation” to be had on societal norms, it should have been how people of Asian descent are treated in America, the assumptions and pressures put upon them to act a certain way, to behave a certain way, and how conforming and deforming those societal pressures can be. Sadly, if anyone had thought to have such a conversation, even if it was folded into DAY 3 of the news cycle, they could not figure out how to articulate the difference between a reason and an excuse. Opportunity missed.)

It cannot have escaped your attention that in the previous paragraphs I have gone out of my way to play the pronoun game, deliberately omitting the name of the attacker. This brings me to what may be the greatest anger of all: The Media absolutely, unequivocally has blood on their hands.

I hold individuals responsible for their actions; however: the glorification of violence by the Media, and the subsequent elevation to Anti-Hero status of the offenders cannot but make a giant impact. Forget violent art. People have been seeing violence in their art for millennia, and somehow society survived. It is the proliferation and cult anointing of these perpetrators by the Mass Media that has given the real sonic boom to “showy” violence. Does the Media make someone commit a crime? No. Can the staggering attention paid to killers and macabre reveling in the blood of their crimes push some unstable person over the edge?

I would not be against it.

In this particular case, you had an even more galling example, with the “from the grave” tape sent to the Media, about the killer’s intentions. We heard piously from grave-faced Newsies about how they agonized over whether and how much footage to air. However, once the line was crossed everyone jumped in with both feet, at least until the backlash and finger pointing began.

Here is a rule that seems simple, trite and snide, but will NEVER steer you wrong: When it is about the ratings (read: money), vs. the ethics, the money will always win.

There were other areas of shame, and even some for hope. (Look into what the country of South Korea said and did about a person who had not been one of theirs in 15 years, and who they had no part in molding. You have never seen classy like this.)

I have not even begun my usual tirade on how the Media cannot move quickly enough when young white kids are gunned down, but the gallons of brown and black blood that spills into the gutters of our cities every day is fastidiously stepped over, like it was not even there.

If I thought dwelling extensively on any of these areas might affect change, in even a few, I would blaze. If I thought any significant portion of our populace might learn a lesson from all this, which might mean a change for the next time, I would scream bloody hell.

But while all those are good, if futile lessons … for today, perhaps they are not the right lesson.

One year ago today, a very troubled young man that no one could help slipped the bonds of our society and took refuge in the glamour and immortality of horrific violence, killing 32 students and teachers on the Virginia Tech campus. He then took his own life. All of the deaths, even his own, are tragic and sad almost beyond enduring. These were his victims:

Ryan Clark (22), a senior in Psych/Biology/English from Martinez, Georgia

Emily Hilscher (19), a freshman in Animal Sciences from Woodville, Virginia

Liviu Librescu (76), a professor of Engineering and holocaust survivor from Ploieşti, Romania

Minal Panchal (26), a masters student in Architecture from Mumbai, India

G. V. Loganathan (53), a professor of Engineering from Tamil Nadu, India

Jarrett Lane (22), a senior in Civil Engineering from Narrows, Virginia

Brian Bluhm (25), a masters student in Civil Engineering from Louisville, Kentucky

Matthew Gwaltney (24), a masters student in Environmental Engineering from Chesterfield, Virginia

Jeremy Herbstritt (27), a masters student in Civil Engineering from Bellefonte, Pennsylvania

Partahi Lumbantoruan (34), a PhD student in Civil Engineering from Medan, Indonesia (Indonesian article)

Daniel O'Neil (22), a masters student in Environmental Engineering from Lincoln, Rhode Island

Juan Ortiz (26), a masters student in Civil Engineering from Bayamón, Puerto Rico

Julia Pryde (23), a masters student in Biological Systems Engineering from Middletown, New Jersey

Waleed Shaalan (32), a PhD student in Civil Engineering from Zagazig, Egypt

Christopher James Bishop ("Jamie Bishop") (35), an instructor of German from Pine Mountain, Georgia

Lauren McCain (20), a freshman in International Studies from Hampton, Virginia

Michael Pohle Jr. (23), a senior in Biological Sciences from Flemington, New Jersey

Maxine Turner (22), a senior in Chemical Engineering from Vienna, Virginia

Nicole White (20), a junior in International Studies from Smithfield, Virginia

Jocelyne Couture-Nowak (49), a professor of French from Nova Scotia, Canada

Ross Alameddine (20), a sophomore in English/Business from Saugus, Massachusetts

Austin Cloyd (18), a freshman in Int'l Studies/French from Champaign, Illinois

Daniel Perez Cueva (21), a junior in International Studies from Woodbridge, Virginia/Peru

Caitlin Hammaren (19), a sophomore in Int'l Studies/French from Westtown, New York

Rachael Hill (18), a freshman in Biological Sciences from Richmond, Virginia

Matthew La Porte (20), a sophomore in Political Science from Dumont, New Jersey

Henry Lee (20), a freshman in Computer Engineering from Roanoke, Virginia/Vietnam

Erin Peterson (18), a freshman in International Studies from Centreville, Virginia

Mary Read (19), a freshman in Interdisciplinary Studies from Annandale, Virginia

Reema Samaha (18), a freshman in Urban Planning from Centreville, Virginia

Leslie Sherman (20), a junior in History/Int'l Studies from Springfield, Virginia

Kevin Granata (45), a professor of Engineering from Toledo, Ohio

April 16, 2007


Anonymous said...

Is it just me or did Dusty do the Axl Rose dance?

Anonymous said...

Interesting column. It kinda lacked a focus, but I think that was somewhat the point. There are lots of lessons to learn from a tragedy like that - people are very complex, and the situation much more so.