Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Senseless Tragedies and Media Reaction

In the wake of the weekend church shooting, I had been thinking about writing a satirical/ironic post about how country music and the conservative culture drove Jim D. Adkisson to attacking the Tennessee Valley Unitarian Universalist Church. After all, there was his note detailing his hatred of the liberal movement in America, and the fact that "literature" like Liberalism is a Mental Health Disorder (Michael Savage), Let Freedom Ring (Sean Hannity), and The O'Reilly Factor (Bill O'Reilly) was found in his home. There is no evidence Adkisson actually listened to country music, but given his age, his region, and his political views it seems likely; after all, that is all it took to rally against Marilyn Manson after the Columbine school shootings, so it shouldn't take much to do the same in this situation.

But I couldn't; because I don't believe it, and because the shooting is too much of a tragedy to use for political umbrage. However, I am incredibly curious about the fact that the media -which was so quick to blame video games, music, and style choices when the perpetrators of these crimes are teenagers, or religion when the perpetrators of these crimes are anything less than Christian and/or white- has been all but silent on how the conservative "culture" may have a part in exacerbating these prejudices and these feelings. Culture is what they turn to in other times, to explain other phenomena. But not here. In this situation, the focus isn't so much on conservative thought, on Ann Coulter, hate-mongering, and the like, but on this one lone guy. Which, in all truth, is where it should be. And our issues with conservative talking points and images shouldn't be "It is the root of murder" but that it is bigoted, hateful, and does nothing to elevate conversation. At the same time though, I can't help but feel as if images like this:
should be condemned for promoting -though not causing- intolerance and violence. That we should be looking more deeply at literature and networks and people who advocate things like giving San Francisco to the terrorists and have consistently and diligently spewed offensive and hateful but ultimately accepted and apparently acceptable statements about women, gays, feminists, atheists, liberals, and their allies. There are nuts on both sides of the isle; and liberals can be petty, small-minded, and mean. But I do agree with a post at Shakespeare's Sister about how, in certain ways, both sides aren't "just as bad". I agree with the assertion that images like the above and "humorous" statements in line with that sort of thinking aren't just jokes.

I understand why it is easier to categorize teenagers as being part of a different "culture". For one thing, it is harder for them to fight against it. Start talking about conservatives being hate-mongers and possibly partially responsible for this type of tragedy and there will be a blood bath. For another, many people really do see teenagers as being profoundly different and separate from the "norm". It is easier to blame things like video games and music and television shows and movies because in many cases there is less of an overlap between "their" interests and "mainstream" (AKA "adult" and often "white") interests. It is easy to bemoan the fate of society should it ever fall into these hands, and it is easy to demonize the different media as being part of the problem, when those hands (and that media) don't resemble yours -especially on a cursory glance. 

And so it is easier to take Adkisson as one crazed man and easier to take school shooters as part of an epidemic, because in each case the take on the situation best reflects preconceived notions and prejudices. But I think that the reality is closer to an amalgam of the two. People who are already prone to violence will do violence with or without Marilyn Mansons or Ann Coulters seemingly promoting it; but a media that espouses violence and hatred can and does influence and reinforce values. That is why the battle for things like women's rights, minority rights, and gay rights often revolve around changing images. And that is why it is important for liberals and conservatives to both refrain from dehumanizing the other; to recognize that there are living, breathing, complex people on both sides and that although we may disagree -and disagree profoundly- on what is best for our country and its citizens, we are both still fighting for the betterment of that nation.

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