Newtown is, like any contemporary tragedy, becoming a symbol far faster than it should. In our 24-hour news cycle world, in our byzantine network of social media, there is no time to absorb the horrible complexity of something like this. There is no time to wrap our heads around the shape of 20 small bodies, 6 adult ones. There is no time to be human and mourn.
As much as there are “conversations” I want to happen, I find myself longing for a slower pace. Let the families of the fallen have some dignity. Let them get through the pain of the first few weeks without constant coverage. Let the town itself stop talking and catch its breath for a few days, if it wants. Outsiders’ need to know does not trump the agony of a parent having to bury their child.
And that doesn’t even begin to touch the obscenity of pundits who immediately start throwing more dirt on the victims, their families, and anyone who disagrees with their agenda:
You don’t have to go far to find more.
Perhaps it is hypocritical of me to “weigh in” when no one asked me. Perhaps it is hypocritical of me to use my own agenda to criticize others. It may be – Im not at my most rational right now. But I really don’t think so. I have opinions on everything from gun control (yes, more, much more) to mental health care access (yes, please, humane and accessible) to school safety (no child should have to see armed guards at their kindergarten) to economic inequity (got a few hours?). I will share these, and in detail, if asked. But that’s not my point here.
My point is the humanity and complexity of tragedies like this evaporates in the days and weeks after, precisely because it's discomfiting. It's almost like coverage is set up to gorge on the event, then quickly lock it away, or at least reduce it to a more "comfortable" idea. Focusing on "why did he do this", to me, overshadows the victims and survivors, not to mention the big, amorphous, messy causes American desperately needs to examine.
Trying to find the "aha!" cause for this in the private landscape of the killer's life is futile. The last thing we need is to beat our heads against the wall trying to blame, to neatly box the causes – this distracts us from the real work of mourning and the real work of writing laws to help address the real issues underlying this event. We can’t let this get simplified, or turned into a meme.
I don’t ever want to hear “Newtown” turned into a keyword like Columbine or Virginia Tech or Trayvon. That makes it too simple too fast. That neat collapse of tragedy into icon allows our “media” (another symbolically hefty piece of cultural baggage) latche onto a “cause” for this. When that happens, it’s over. This happened because X. You now have a shorthand version. Now here’s the weather.
2012 has been a bloody year for the US. The circumstances that may have driven the killer to these acts, if my hypotheses are correct, are not simple. None of this will be remedied overnight. Noone can hit refresh and fix the easy availability of high-powered weaponry, or the piss-poor state of mental healthcare for most of the country. Noone can just flick a switch on whatever socioeconomic tremors push people to despair and rage.
We have a lot of work ahead of us, and I want to see that happen slowly, deliberately, and solidly. I want to hear the names of the fallen, I want to see them as inspirations for new legislation and new attitudes. The victims, their families, and the survivors deserve so much more than three weeks of wall-to-wall coverage then oblivion.
Do not let this “trend”. Do the hard work, have the hard talks. Don’t forget a name.
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