Today affords an interesting test of Twitter’s benevolent pledge to shield its users from distressing, problematic content, for this is the day that an organization known as Sandy Hook Promise posted a video titled “Back-to-School Essentials”. The video begins with anodyne footage of chipper boys and girls opening their lockers and sitting down for class, but before long, we learn these kids are dodging a mass shooter, who has entered their school and is opening fire. Surreality is the leitmotif here, as the glossy cinematography and insouciant soundtrack clash with the grim action—and the effect is as sickening as it is haunting. Yet, the terrifying nature of this video, which ends with a young girl silently weeping as she accepts that she will never hug her mom again, hasn’t slowed its spread: already, it’s been watched five million times, and retweeted sixty-three thousand more . . . uh, make that sixty-five, as the counter has rolled over twice in the time it took me to write this paragraph.
Hmm. The video, “it’s been watched”. Something kind-of creepy about the using the passive voice in this instance, don’t you think? Well, anyway, the video has inspired . . . hmm. The active voice isn’t much better. Let’s try this again:
The people of Twitter are holding a thoughtful and respectable dialogue on their reactions to this video. Joking, of course: browse and you’ll bear witness to the same uninspired melodramatic ad hominem attacks that define every debate on the public’s access to guns in the United States. You won’t find much in the way of intellectual stimulation ‘round these parts, although, every once in a while, you find a neat statistic. In this case, a user named Bob Slydell observed that the chances of a school shooting occurring are smaller than one percent. His reasoning? There are more than one hundred and thirty thousand schools in America—although “schools yet to be shuttered and bulldozed because their local governments would rather spend their tax revenue reconstructing a football arena” is probably more precise—and our country was the scene of twenty-three different school shootings last year. Goodness, didn’t you think there had been so many more? Doesn’t the media suggest that there is at least one such shooting each day?
We will leave these people to debate amongst themselves, their squabbles being too shopworn and familiar for us to take interest. Yet, on our way out the door, why is the word “familiar” so . . . so . . . familiar? Why am I possessed by an uncommonly potent strand of déjà vu? It’s not the squabble taking place back on Twitter. No, it’s something about the video itself, something about that bizarre inconsistency of tone. I’ve always had a soft spot for that sort of emotional discordance in film—the movie Kick-Ass excelled in developing its own anti-pattern—but thither can we trace the source of “Back-to-School Essentials”?
Of course: it draws its inspiration from the public service announcements that popped in popularity in the 1990s and early 2000s. The most memorable, at least to me, were those that focused on the danger of drugs—that is, illegal drugs and street drugs, not the drugs that generate untold billions for pharmaceutical companies with dubious morals. As a kid, I always loved watching them: they felt like miniature horror movies, instantaneous creepshows that were so painfully at odds with the mindless and light-hearted programs they so often buffered. My personal favorites were the videos produced by the Montana Meth Project, probably because they depicted disfigurations and squalid living conditions—all caused by meth. I probably never would have seen them if it weren’t for my sister, who, as a teenager, watched MTV, which aired an absurdly large number of those spots.
It made sense to plug these anti-drug propaganda pieces on MTV, which was particularly popular among teenagers, supposedly the group likeliest to try illegal drugs. They’re especially gullible at that time in life, you see, which is why the folks behind the Montana Meth Project, and many other groups besides, tried to persuade them with scare tactics, dire warnings, and declarations that were more than indirectly threatening. I wonder why they relied on these superficial emotional appeals instead of using logic, rhetoric, and reason to justify their claims. Why couldn’t they address their viewers as if they were adults? Such a strategy suggests, at the very least, a profound disrespect and intellectual contempt for the audience, and what’s more, it corrupts the entire message of the campaign: how can we trust the filmmakers’ conclusion if the process whereby they reached that conclusion is irredeemably flawed?
Fearmongering gets you nowhere intellectually or philosophically, but it is regrettably effective politically, especially in the United States, where all too much of our public policy is predicated on seemingly incurable paranoia. The war on drugs is one especially embarrassing example, and while the movement to repeal the 2nd Amendment is decidedly more complex, it is no less irrational or reactionary. But then again, “irrational and reactionary” is a seamlessly suitable description for the American people at large, so it is only concordant that they are just overwhelmed by one topic of discussion as they are by another.
In the first place, it is a truism, the claim that the elimination of all guns would prevent all violence via guns. The elimination of all sugar would obviate all consumption of sugar, yes? The problem is that no mainstream figure or so-called public intellectual is advocating for the elimination of all guns; we hear only the call for the revocation of civilians’ right to possess weaponry. While there is a perfectly reasonable argument to be made that only a warrior should possess a weapon, a repeal of the 2nd Amendment would make no such designation; it would relegate ownership of weaponry to the military and the police, and neither organization has earned the respect conative of the title of warrior—not in this country, at least. Perhaps we should spend less time looking for warriors on high and more time making warriors of ourselves, warriors of us all, warriors who are fit to care for themselves?
Furthermore, I cannot fathom why this call to discard the 2nd Amendment, to abolish the citizens’ right to self-defense and to grant unlimited corresponding license to the government, is so popular among the so-called liberals, among those who claim to be the tireless enemies of and resistance to President Trump, the present executive of the American government. While I understand that Trump is probably incapable of loading a gun, and even more so of aiming it, still I find it terribly ironic that liberals would want to relinquish their arms to his administration.
Ah, but weren’t we saying something about the inherent baselessness of fearmongering? As this brief foray into the illogic of the aforementioned position has, I hope, evinced, you cannot begin with an irrational position and proceed in search of reason—not with a prayer of success, anyway. The video produced by Sandy Hook Promise is another example of fearmongering, a lazy attempt to reduce the problem of American violence to civilian ownership of weaponry. In the first place, I can’t participate in a serious discussion of “American violence”—if such a thing exists—unless I begin with a consideration of American violence internationally, with a reflection of America’s propensity to commit acts of massive violence overseas.
As I mentioned in a tweet earlier today—one which was liked by Tulsi Gabbard’s press assistant—one could and should make a video similar to the one produced by Sandy Hook Promise, with the only differences being that it takes place in Libya or in Palestine, and that the madmen marauding about with weapons are Americans—or, at the very least, people who have been sponsored by the American government. Our entire federal government is predicated on the infliction of superfluous and fully preventable violence: every American president who has served in my lifetime has been a war criminal and a financier of international terrorism, and while their crimes against humanity are rewarded handsomely, the individuals who seek to stop their hands are kidnapped, tortured, and humiliated for all the world to see.
When the government deliberately sustains such an insane and impossible moral puzzle, the same government cannot be surprised when its citizens descend into madness and commit mad acts, of which entering a school and murdering defenseless children is perhaps the most striking example. Of course, not even the most bloodthirsty mass shooter has managed to hold a candle to the cruelty committed by any American president, so even our condemnation lacks context, lacks rationality. And among an unreasonable population, recommending the release of all weapons to the police and to the government, to the chief sources of violence in our country and in the world, is surely irrational, but by no means inconsistent.
P.S.: Many of the anti-drug campaigns mentioned above were subsidized involuntarily by the taxpayers. Perhaps that money could have been spent more effectively on a respectable education system, eh?