The tragic shootings in Arizona, which took the lives of seven people and nearly killed Arizona Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords, happened almost a month ago, but there are some interesting elements to this event that won’t ever be dated.
Whenever a tragic event like this happens, it’s always interesting to see how people react, and, in 2011, that’s an extremely easy thing to do thanks to Facebook and Twitter. In the immediate aftermath of the shootings, a lot of people on Twitter wrote expected comments that they were shocked, couldn’t believe what happened. But a couple of hours later, an interesting trend developed.
Sarah Palin’s website had a map of the United States on it that had gun sights drawn over the districts of the Congressmen that voted for President Obama’s health care bill. One of the members of Congress that had gun sights over their district was Gabrielle Giffords. With this revelation, the ‘Twitter-verse’ exploded with rage against Palin and the map, and the idea that whoever the shooter was may have been influenced by it. A lot of people overreacted, myself included, and blamed the former governor for promoting violent political rhetoric.
This behavior is not surprising; it’s human nature to look for someone or something to blame after a terrible event, like the shooting, takes place. But that doesn’t mean it’s right. To be honest, Palin had a legitimate complaint against those who implicated her in providing the shooter with a motive (even though she has since squandered that goodwill with her misguided "blood libel" comments, but that is a whole other story). At the same time, there is a major issue in this country with how hostile the political landscape has become over the past few years. In Obama’s incredibly moving speech in the days after the shootings, he did call for more civility on both sides of the aisle. The problem with this isn’t just that it’s an extremely hard thing to accomplish; so many facets of politics rely on rage and hyperbole in order to get attention. It’s that politicians apparently need a violent example to bring about this change. This is something that anyone with common sense knows should have happened a long time ago. Being nicer to each other does not change the fact that Giffords nearly died. It’s like buying homeowner’s insurance after your house burns down. This could just be a case of too little, too late.
The other interesting reaction to the shooting had to deal with Jared Lee Loughner, who was arrested on January 9, the day after the shootings, for allegedly being the man who pulled the trigger. There’s an interesting parallel to how people reacted to Loughner after his arrest, and the movie "A Clockwork Orange." The 1971 film, which was based on a novel by Anthony Burgess and directed by Stanley Kubrick, tells the story of Alex, a British youth who, along with his gang, terrorize London with their "ultraviolence," raping and murdering innocent people just for fun. Alex is eventually sent to prison, but is promised an early release after he undergoes a controversial new form of therapy. This therapy considers violence a credible disease, and the horrible acts committed by Alex and others are just symptoms. In my opinion, the violence-as-a-disease theory is prevalent through our society. After Loughner’s arrest, a lot of news stories came out questioning why he would allegedly go on a killing spree. His actions have to be cause by something, right? Maybe he was warped by his parents and his heavily secluded upbringing. Maybe he was influenced by the books he read (on his MySpace page, he listed "The Communist Manifesto" and Adolf Hitler’s "Mein Kampf" among his favorites). Or maybe he is just insane. But when people start to think it might be because he favorited the video for the song "Bodies" by Drowning Pool on YouTube, then you know things have gotten out of hand. There are many reasons why someone would do something as evil as a killing spree, but it is naïve and superficial to distill one’s depraved intentions down to the music they listen to or the books they read. It is just like the aftermath the Columbine shootings, now almost 12 years ago, when the public scapegoated Marilyn Manson because some of his lyrics could have been motivation. We can’t focus on just the external influences when something like this happens. Violence is not a disease, there are no symptoms, and there is no easy cure.
Obviously, the facets of this tragedy spread from the political realm to the psychological, but society has to learn how to properly analyze these aspects in order to learn from them, and not go looking for easy answers, because there is only one: there aren’t any.