“In the end, after he has felt the full force of our justice system, what will be remembered are the good people who were impacted by this tragedy,” President Obama said this week in Aurora, Colo., after the shootings.
That’s probably not true.
From Charles Whitman up to the present day, the collective American memory preserves the name of the killer . . . the lone psycho, the shadow hero. We’re far too fascinated with violence not to mythologize its perpetrators. And just as we all know (because the media tell us) that there will be a “next war,” we know, oh God, in the deep churnings of the heart, that there will be more murder victims — schoolchildren, college students, shoppers, churchgoers, theatergoers, bystanders. We know because we live in a culture that tolerates and perpetuates violence.
James Holmes may have been a “loner,” but, like his predecessors, he acted in a complex American context. He wasn’t alone at all.
The U.S. is far more violent than other developed countries, for reasons seldom addressed or even looked at in anything like a holistic way. The root of the matter, as I see it, is our false distinction between “good violence” and “bad violence.” We don’t address the issue systemically because of our social investment in “good violence” and the enormous payoff it delivers to some. But good violence — the authorized, glorified, “necessary” kind — inevitably morphs into bad violence from time to time, and thus we are delivered jolts of headline-grabbing horror on a regular basis.
Image by chuybenitez via Flickr.