All sorts of theories will develop in the next few days, and for myself, I have already considered the gamut of possibilities from PTSD to neurological experiment at the medical school in which James Holmes was enrolled. Everything is possible, even a terrorism act — let’s not forget that before the real perpetrator of the Oklahoma shooting was revealed to be an American veteran, the media speculated that the attack was certainly an act of international terrorism. This could be such a case in reverse: we’re speculating on personal psychological disturbances, but we may yet find out otherwise.
I want to say this now before the details are uncovered: I will not be surprised if we discover that the shooter was probably a loner, someone who had difficulties relating to others in school, who tried to fit in and probably made a fool of himself in the process, who felt alienated and excluded and likely, was a victim of bullying. He probably worshipped cool in the way that nerdy kids do, and he probably felt in the end that the only way to be noticed was by trying to become, if not the hero that the culture of cool worships, then at least the villain. In this instance, as in the V Tech shooting and the Columbine shooting, I would not be surprised to learn that James Holmes’ actions were just another form of suicide – more selfish, certainly, and certainly more destructive, but suicide all the same.
I’m not even dreaming of trying to defend where the mind of a mass killer is born, but I would try to suggest that maybe we, as a society, should be paying closer attention to the long-term effects of sustained exclusion and alienation from social circles. Especially as connecting to others in a genuine, wholesome and honest way has become increasingly more difficult. I have observed young people having difficulties discerning between acceptable norms of behavior and those drama-scripts more often seen in movies, twitter, FB and other forums of artificial interaction. I think that what we’re seeing is the effect of what happens to those who have somehow missed the opportunity to interact in wholesome ways in school and home environments.
I haven’t felt entirely comfortable in my classroom since the Virginia Tech shootings — not because I expect it (I had expected it before, having ready many student essays and stories which no longer seem to question motivations for murders inspired by jealousy, “love” and greed, as it seems to me more and more young people, lacking real-life interaction that used to occur in playgrounds and in parks, are numbed by the frequent justifications given not just in story telling, through books, videogames, and films, but also through our government, through lame and louzy excuses for missile attacks even on civilian grounds in foreign nations) — but because I remember a number of alienated students, socially awkward, unable to communicate their desire to belong, who cling to the script of movies and tv shows because they have nothing else to guide them towards their peers or to let them understand how to become friends “the normal way.” And I have always suspected that those types were just one cruel joke away from becoming VTech shooters themselves.
As a country, we are in trouble. We all know this. We post this everywhere under different guises: the trouble with social media, the jadedness of teens, the proliferating problem of bullying. But, i think, what we’re all missing in our media-driven, looks-obsessed, culture of cool is an attempt to include, represent, and nurture not only the beautiful and the brawny but also the nerds and the imperfect — beyond the toxic and often parochial political correctness that has already become so much a joke, and beyond the reactionary religiosity that breeds just as much exclusionism the more reactionary it gets. There is nothing normal about what we see through social and traditional media and to too many people, such venues are the only way to connect and reach out to others.
Don’t misunderstand me: I don’t blame movies or videos or tv, nor even gun control or the lack thereof. I blame our inability as a people to talk to each other, to care about our neighbor’s plight, to take the time to speak to someone who is lonely, and maybe a little strange, and let them know that we care — and we should care. I blame our society’s obsession with Alpha-cool, with leaders of the pack, with superficial and often violent domination. Why are our heros Batmans and Spidermans and Iron Men and Incredible Hulks?
For myself, I mourn the loss of Odysseus, the clever hero, the hero who wants nothing more than to go home to his wife and child – the sly hero who would rather use his brain than his brawn, though he possesses plenty of both. The hero who always tries first to talk his way out of trouble, who abhors violence, in spite of the fact that he’s surrounded by it, who does his best to be fair to his fellow men.
So, maybe the next time you look at that guy with the greasy hair in the back of the classroom who talks about his sword and how he fears his roommate may kill him, who tries to impress you by wearing tattoos and listening to inane music, instead of laughing at him (or her), maybe say something to him, ask him if he’s got somebody to eat lunch with, ask him if he’s all right. No doubt I’m an optimist, but, what could it hurt?