Saturday, July 21, 2012

And Then I Woke Up

Another American gun massacre. Another American gun massacre in Colorado. Another American gun massacre in Colorado featuring costumed characters, assault weapons, some kind of odd vengeance.

"But he was such a nice boy...."

Yes, well... they all are, aren't they?

Americans have a touching and romantic faith in the gun culture that's been sold to them for ages.

I'm sure everybody is familiar with the Sand Creek Massacre. It took place in 1864 in Colorado Territory when a contingent of the Colorado Militia went on a rampage and exterminated an encampment of Cheynne and Arapaho along the Sand Creek in eastern Colorado. Even for its time, what happened was shocking, though not unprecedented. An unprovoked attack by militia on an encampment housing mostly women and children resulted in perhaps 135 dead and many wounded Indians, and it had the effect of triggering a brutal retaliation by Plains Indians against American settlers that really didn't conclude till the Wounded Knee Massacre in South Dakota in 1890. Thus was the West... tamed.

Oh, but there were many other massacres before those, dating back almost to the very beginning of European settlement in North America -- regardless of the welcome or the resistance they received from the Native inhabitants. It didn't matter. From time to time there would be massacres.

On the other hand, and perhaps more germane to the Incident in Aurora at hand is that from time to time European-American settlers would go on murderous rampages or would simply murder Indians one by one, and almost always they would be allowed to get away with it. The murder of Indians was not "murder" in the law of the West. It couldn't be. The attitude may not have universally been that the only good Indian was a dead Indian, but there was little or no sense at all that killing Indians for real or imagined crimes against the settlers was in any way unjustified, or that any white killer of Indians could be or would be held to account for their deeds. In fact, many were celebrated. Some still are today.

The notion that it was somehow "wrong" to go about with guns blazing, blasting every living thing in sight, simply didn't occur to a substantial chunk of the American population, and to some extent, it hasn't occurred to enough Americans yet.

Certainly in the American conquest of Mesopotamia -- well, attempted conquest -- the notion that the Valiant Troops were engaged in "Indian Wars" was well understood by many, and massacres were simply part of the process of dealing with the Natives. It was what was done. And there was no accountability, often enough, not even reports of this or that many civilians slaughtered in this or that locale. Who cared? They were "just Iraqis" or Arabs or Muslims, people who were so different from our own sweet selves that they were, well... hardly human.

Of course when you demonize The Other that way, the slaughter of innocents is inevitable, and when such demonization is routinized and almost required throughout the culture, not only in War Zones (which we have learned is the Whole Wide World), then we are going to have killing, gun violence, on a massive scale whether or not there are alien "Natives" to massacre.

This is one reason why I cannot simply let Chris Hedges' demonization and scapegoating of the Black Bloc be a "difference of opinion." No, he crossed over a bright line, into the realms of propaganda and demonization that lead inevitably to slaughter, something he should know better than anyone since as he never tires of telling us, he "covered the wars in the Balkans."

He learned the wrong lesson.

Americans suffered nearly 10,000 deaths last year due to gun violence, not all of them in the form of mass murders, but still way too many dead and wounded via easily accessible and useable firearms. Restricting routine access to firearms would help lower those numbers, presuming Americans really wanted to lower those numbers. But what would help even more is changing the social norms so that gun violence against various Others would no longer be routinized and romanticized.

Starting, perhaps, with entertainment.

I stopped going to movies years ago and I rarely watch television -- even television news any more -- because so much of what is shown in the movie theaters and on television is absolutely drenched in blood; it is a non-stop blood fest of murder and mayhem, and guns firing constantly. Not in any sort of defensive situation, mind you, but in offensive battles or just madness, often of a lone individual "taking matters into his own hands."

Changing the culture of the shoot-em-ups in entertainment won't by itself curb the gun violence. Much more needs to be done. Restricting access to firearms and requiring that they not be deployed at all under most conditions is something else that needs to be done. It's common sense.

The police are far too eager to shoot and kill suspects, especially if they show signs of mental illness, and they always get away with it. This should no longer be tolerated.

Reminding Americans that what's happened in the past -- the almost endless list of massacres and genocides -- is not an example to be emulated now and in the future; nor is the murderous warrior culture that our Valiant Troops practice elsewhere one to be emulated at home.

Some have suggested that powerful psychotropic drugs play a role in the continuing series of gun massacres in this country and that overprescription of mind and mood altering pharmacological substances must stop.

But I'm not at all convinced that Americans by and large want the gun violence to stop. It's part of the American  psyche and American Exceptionalism. It may be outrageous and shocking -- each time it happens -- but like lightning strikes, it's dramatic and energizing.

And of course there are the gun ravers who, if anything, want more, more, more!

Yes, and they may get it, too.


  1. Look the new superhero movies that replaced the violent action movies of my youth are certainly reactionary and jingoistic.

    However, what they are not are gun movies. This is intentional of course. When I was a kid, the Right decided they didn't like gruesome gunfests anymore. Possibly it was because people like Paul Verhoven and Stephen King (with the Running Man) had learned how to make Left wing message movies using the violent action film format. (Seriously, Starship Troopers was an anti-fascist film disguised as a lads action movie. Robocop basically introduced not only the concept of privatization but how corporations made it work.) Possibly just coincidence, but I could see savvy Right wingers wanting to crush Verhoven.

    The point is, we live in the age of tame PG-13 action films, where the hero uses fists or non-lethal sci-fi weaponry to take out the "bad guys." No way was our spree killer inspired by the movies. (Believe me, I'm not engaging in a defense of Christopher Nolan's spirited ode to the inherent goodness of our 1% overlords here, I just think blaming Batman for this murder misses the whole broader point of the Going Postal phenomenon.)

    We know quite a lot about spree killers and what motivates them. They are primarily motivated by stress. Normally, they attack the source of that stress (school or work). Some kill themselves and their families. This particular murderer was "interesting" in that rather than killing large numbers of his fellow students and the faculty at his school, he decided to go after random strangers, but the rest of the profile is sadly familiar. The stress is caused by the demands of capitalism, which chew people up and spit them out. A lot of people are broken by this process and some percentage of these broken people become violently insane.

    We are perfectly happy, as a society, to pay this as a price of capitalism. The reason this won't lead to significant gun control laws is because no one of any importance was killed.

    I mean, a movie? It's working class entertainment! I doubt even the meanest Koch Brother's catamite has been to a movie in ages, certainly not one of the non-art-house variety. If you want to make an impression, you really need to do your shooting spree at the ballet or the opera. Then you'd get gun control laws and maybe even preventative mental health laws, tout suite.

  2. I haven't been to a movie in many years, and one reason I stopped going was that so many of the pictures being released were simply blood-fests with no redeeming qualities at all. They reveled in blood for its own sake.

    I did see Starship Troopers, and like you I saw it for what I thought was Verhoven's intent -- a grimly humorous anti-fascist polemic that I thought worked wonderfully. Many viewers got it, but others thought it was just fluff or disrespected Heinlein. Yes, well...

    And you're right, the motivations of mass killers like Holmes are well-understood by those who want to understand them, and stress (in the broadest sense) is the primary motif.

    In some cases, it is complicated by the sudden onset of mental issues (like schizophrenia) or poor reactions to medication -- or the withdrawal of medication -- as well.

    On the other hand, I've been interested to see some people linking the random gun assaults like that in Aurora with the many killings of unarmed citizen by police (such as in Anaheim as an example.)

  3. Movies are mostly less violent now. They still have violent hearts, of course, but you are less likely to see fake viscera on the screen in a mainstream action movie. (Note, mainstream action movies require a PG-13 rating to succeed. Kill all the robots and aliens you like, but be careful about the humans.)

    I miss Verhoven, actually. For a time he was the master of the Sci-Fi "message" picture, dressed up in the hyperviolent drag required at the time. Although he seems to still be working, he's no longer the king. (He truly hated the black heart of Thatcherism, and attacked it in three Bigtime Hollywood pictures.)

    Christopher Nolan is a talented reactionary, though he'd likely deny it. His films aren't as effectively pro-fascist as Dirty Harry (truly the very best piece of pro-fascist entertainment I have ever seen! Leni Reifenstahl could take pointers!), but they have a solid middle class, "let the 'good guys' do what they need to to stop the terrorists." (
    However, his Batman didn't summarily execute people in the films I've seen so far.)

    It's true that there is a contingent of the cops that enjoys a bit of the old ultra-violence. My Dad had one under his command, he described him as someone who came back from Nam, "a bit squirrely in the head." After he damaged a few too many citizens, he got put someplace out of the way where he could be managed. (That particular story was quite chilling to me, incidentally.)

    However, I'd argue that these have more in common with serial killers than spree killers. Spree killers tend to operate like explosions, serial killers are more like some nasty predatory monster hiding in the woods, picking off people as they can. Some violent cops even seem to have the sexual sadism element in their makeup.

  4. The Anaheim police seem to be deliberately provocative. They sure like shooting their guns off, too. There was another Police-involved shooting in Anaheim yesterday; nobody was hurt.

    They just love to shoot their bean-bags and pepper-balls at crowds, too.

    I've watched quite a bit of the livestreaming from the protests, and it's pretty clear that they have their orders...

    One man was riding by a police line on his bicycle, not involved in protest as far as I could tell; he was pulled off the bike (at least that's what it looked like) and yanked to the other side of the line by a cop. The bike rider objected but not threateningly. Then another cop took aim and shot him pretty much point blank with a bean-bag round. Rider went down. He was handcuffed and taken off to the curb by two officers who stayed with him while the rest of the cops swept through a parking lot at a supermarket, threatening anyone along the way.

    Seattle cops have been just plain brutal with crowds, and they have a thing about shooting first and asking questions afterwards. If they ever do.

    The local sheriff has come under scrutiny because deputies have shot and killed ten suspects so far this year (city police have added another six I think to the death toll) and many of them have been obviously mentally ill individuals having episodes. The jail, too, has once again come under fire for routine brutality and neglect of inmate medical issues, suicides, and other suspicious activities (it's a complicated story). I look at all this and shake my head because we went through the same shit a few years back, and all sorts of reforms were supposed to have been emplaced (love that word!) and things did improve... and the current sheriff is something of a clean-scrubbed straight arrow type who was actually in charge of the jail reforms before he was elected. But something's gone wrong. Bad wrong.