New Heathens


Apologies for touching on (non-wildlife related) current events, but three days in I still haven't turned the TV off. This interview still floors me.

To bring it back to music, after Columbine some people fingered gangsta' rap and Marilyn Manson. Others said that was ridiculous. This time there's talk about the vitriol, war-imagery and implied threats in today's American politics. Pima County Sheriff Clarence Dupnik, in an extraordinary press conference on Saturday night, called out "those on the radio and some on television." Of course, some say that's ridiculous too.

Much as the anti-Tipper Gore musician in me wants to doubt the effect on troubled minds of braggarts in droopy jeans and former band-nerds who dress up like sadomasochist space aliens, when tragic shootings happen people look straight to the meanest-sounding shit that may have been filtering through the shooter's ears. Anybody in the shit-talking business, be they rappers, shock-rockers, pundits or politicians has to be contentious of that going in.

Because there are guys like this out there, so it's logical to ask how much stuff like this has been pressing buttons in his fevered little brain.

(Afternoon addition: I've read a lot of good opinion pieces today as to why the theory I presented above, that unstable people can be triggered to horrific actions by violent speech, is wrong. One side arguing the "just crazy" theory is conservative columnist Ross Douthat, who makes the good point, "When our politicians and media loudmouths act like fools and zealots, they should be held responsible for being fools and zealots. They shouldn’t be held responsible for the darkness that always waits to swallow up the unstable and the lost." My favorite political blogger, Dan Brooks, a righteous, hilarious and scathing progressive, agrees with Douthat but goes on to make the point, "The one sensible thing we can take from all this is how much of our political discourse coincides with the statements of crazy people. When Michele Bachmann says that the census might be a government plan to put us in internment camps, it doesn’t make community college students develop schizophrenia. When Sarah Palin put a crosshairs over Gabrielle Giffords’s congressional district, it didn’t make Loughner shoot her. Those are the kinds of things that crazy people do, though, and the sort of narratives that assassinations and random violence fit easily into. That should give us pause.")

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  1. There is one thing lacking in your logic. In the Columbine massacre the students who perpetrated the act were definitively connected to certain sources of violence. After that point speculation began. In this case there has been no connection to anything so far and yet political pundits are being blamed. People have tried to make fake Facebook posts for this guy connecting him to any number of right wing people, but in fact fake.
    Have you ever watched “The Fisher King” with Jeff Bridges? In that movie a man saw the direct acts of someone he told to do something on his Radio show. This is far from what has been shown so far.
    The fear I have is that our reactionary nature mixed with lies (flatout lies) will bring us to taking away certain liberties and free speech.

  2. A fair fear and thanks for your comment.

    You can see, as shown by the “afternoon update” that I posted, my thinking on this has evolved. The “connection point” to violence here wasn’t directly to the shooter, but there is a connection point to the violence in the tenor, language and symbolism of today’s politics.

    It isn’t right, and I can’t excuse it — and if I could apologize for it en masse I would — but please understand that in the horror of Tucson’s aftermath a lot of people’s chain of thought was this: “Here’s a lady who was hounded in the course of doing her job by people standing by her office wearing guns outside their clothes (which is an intimidation tool, it’s why police do it), she received death threats, her office windows were shot out with a pellet gun, her last opponent held a rally to “eliminate” her by inviting his supporters to go shoot an M-16 with him, Sarah Palin famously put a bullseye on a map over her district and all the while some political leaders encouraged their supporters to wear out their guns, and said stuff like, ‘The tree of liberty must be watered by the blood of patriots.'”

    Please don’t think I’m trying to implicate anyone, but these actions and this rhetoric has come from people on the right. Please also don’t think I’m implying that the right is the sole purveyor of this kind of thing. The left was well known for using violence and intimidation in the Vietnam era and, as a quick Google easily shows, folks on the left used bullseyes on their 2010 election maps too.

    But over the past two years the majority of the gun brandishing and statements like, “Second Amendment remedies” has come from people on the right. And the majority of the politicians threatened were those on the left. All the while a lot of people on the left were saying, “Please cool down this rhetoric, somebody’s going to get hurt!”

    And then, completely by coincidence, Gabrielle Giffords, a Democrat, a recipient of death threats, vandalism and political opponents showing up at her rallies with guns, ends up with a bullet through her head.

    Yes, once facts came out they showed that the horrific act was likely a coincidence.

    But please understand — and again this doesn’t make it right — in the emotional aftermath, it didn’t feel like a coincidence.

    So a lot of people lashed out. It wasn’t right. But that’s why.

    I think a lot of people on the right understood this reaction and were gracious enough to rise above it. Speaker Boehner really rose to the occasion by saying, “An attack on one who serves is an attack on all who serve.” Of course some people ran a “distaste race,” and used the fact that some on the left spouted off as justification to spout off themselves. Rush Limbaugh said that Democrats were overjoyed by Rep. Giffords’ shooting because it might boost Obama’s poll numbers. But vile shit like that from him is as predictable as a dog licking its balls.

    So maybe some good-faith apologies are what’s needed. I don’t think that anybody who exercised his or her second amendment rights at a political rally, who fired up a crowd by saying “Reload!” who quoted Thomas Jefferson’s thoughts about revolution wanted what happened in Tucson. But in light of what happened I think there’s a lot of people in this country who would appreciate an apology. Just as I think there’s a lot of people who would appreciate an apology from those who jumped to conclusions about the shooter’s motivations before the facts.

    So, for what it’s worth, (killer Onion headline, “Fox News Reports No Link Between Gasoline, Matches and Fire,” notwithstanding) I’m sorry if I fell into the latter category.

    So to bring it back to music, I’ll say this. A few days ago I wrote a blog inferring that I wish Hank Williams Jr. would’ve died when he fell off a mountain in Montana in 1975. I thought it was cute, just as I’m sure Sarah Palin thought she was kinda’ cute. But if Hank Jr. had a terrible accident and croaked tomorrow, I’d feel like a real asshole.

    Which probably means it wasn’t the right thing to say in the first place.

    So, for what it’s worth, this is me apologizing for saying that I wished harm on Hank Jr.

    (Because mercy would I be scared of never again being able to say that I think his music sucks.)

  3. “killer Onion headline, “Fox News Reports No Link Between Gasoline, Matches and Fire,”

    There is no link amongst these items other than the volition of the moral agent.

    Likewise for weapons, violent rhetoric, and Loughner.

  4. True, at least for any direct connection (cultural influences can range too close to chaos theories for me). I think Americans of every stripe had a serious wake up call about what it really looks like when someone in politics is “taken out,” or “targeted,” and for the most part I think that across the spectrum politicians are treating this tragedy with the honor and respect it deserves. Again, apologies if anyone thought I suggested differently in the emotional direct aftermath.

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