Christie Blatchford, a tough and venerable print reporter who exposes truth far more powerfully than I ever could, had some choice things to say about the horrors that happened this morning in Newtown. Some of it touched on social media and the bizarre, faceless way we communicate in this stranger-than-strange time:
The wisest story I’ve ever read about a mass school shooting is a work of fiction – no accident, I suspect, for it takes distance to see past the horror of such things, not to mention get around the makeshift shrines and the spoken and printed equivalents of the teddy bears which adorn them.
Social media and Twitter, it is certain, will make that latter task ever more difficult.
As mainstream newsrooms around the world geared up the sombre music and reporters lowered voices and dumbed down their language (yes, it is hard to imagine) in order to interview eight-year-olds, so did cyberspace fill up with omgs, fake sites, expressions of sorrow, rumours and ghastly bleatings.
To quote a young man named Ryan Lanza, who may be someone with the bad luck to have the same name as the Ryan Lanza who was first wrongly identified as the latest shooter or who may be the actual brother of gunman Adam Lanza, who complained on Facebook Friday, “So aperently I’m getting spammed bc someone with the same name as me killed some ppl..wtf?”
Either way, this is what passes for social commentary in 2012 — illiterate, petulant, self-referential sludge.
I think this is what I was trying to get at - not nearly as effectively - in my tirade against the cult of narcissism that drives texts, tweets and other bleeding chunks of damaged language. It astounds me that up until the past few months, this cacophany of chirping and blathering has been seen as nothing but positive:
isn't it marvelous we can connect like this, that everyone's the same, all of us equal in the great wide sea of cyberspace, so that we can freely propagate lies, scams, gooey badly-spelled sentiment (soon to become standardized, no doubt, in the form of "Twitter English") and other verbal effluvia, all in the name of instant communication!
A few years after the initial bird-brained euphoria, the rotten underside of this whole ill-planned enterprise is beginning to stink big-time. The fact that it has fewer rules governing it than the Wild West is only just now beginning to make itself felt in bullying and cyberscams and other forms of human hatefulness. Old people are being bled dry and have nothing left to live on, teenagers are killing themselves due to relentless organized persecution (after which we get all sentimental and fix things by designing a tshirt). Even the shocking suicide of that poor blameless nurse after the Duchess prank may have been driven by a barrage of cyberabuse.
Blatchford speaks of a novel called We Need to Talk About Kevin, in which a budding Adam Lanza-type begins to emit those eerie waves of incipient violence that everyone is so good at ignoring. This bit of dialogue is both hair-raising and wrenchingly accurate:
The dad once asked Kevin, “Do any of the students at your school ever seem unstable? Does anyone ever talk about guns, or play violent games or like violent movies? Do you think something like this could happen at your school? Are there at least counselors there?”
“All the kids at my school are unstable, Dad,” the son replied. “They play nothing but violent computer games and watch nothing but violent movies. You only go to a counselor to get out of class, and everything you tell her is a crock."
Blatchford touches on the new industry of trauma therapy that always leaves me feeling as if something had been stuffed down my gullet:
I was in Littleton, Colo., 13 years ago. What was almost as horrifying as the carnage — 14 students and a teacher dead, the killers having shot themselves — was the theatre that followed. Students were able to grieve only in public, preferably for the cameras; professionals descended in swarms to help the town mourn; people urged each other to hug their children, as though without the reminder, no one would have thought of it.
Tonight I listened to countless reporters say things like "experts claim that -" and "let's talk to an expert on this subject", after which a psychologist would come on camera and spout truisms that any grandmother would know. Not one person had the guts to say, "My God, I don't know! I don't know what to do about any of this. I feel like there's nowhere left on earth that's safe." Not one of them admitted that there is NO WAY to "safely" let your children know about all this hideous carnage in a way that will spare their feelings and leave them emotionally unscarred.
Don't lie to them, we were told, but don't say too much. Don't disclose, but don't withhold either, and make sure you give them a big hug (because otherwise, we might forget).
But even that convoluted mobius of non-advice wan't the worst. Every single "expert" I heard tonight told us that we should reassure our children that it "won't happen to them". Oh? Do we know that for sure? Did Newtown know that for sure when it woke up this morning? If a place that looks like a Norman Rockwell painting could bury twenty small children just a few days before Christmas, we should not be so sure it "won't happen" in our town, that it won't start to happen in escalating waves as more and more people go crazy from alienation and meaninglessness and fall into the moral void that breeds pure evil.