When I had cable, I found myself using CNN as a kind of background music, deluding myself that I could tune out the nonsense and tune in when something important came up, and thus, I thought, I was staying “informed.”
But after a while I realized that I was not informed; I was simply distracted by side-show stories, and lulled by the repetitiveness of dull reporting. I also found that, like a junkie, I needed a bigger and bigger “fix” to keep me going, to excite me, to make me feel connected to the bigger world.
But a couple of years ago, I gave up cable and reclaimed a morsel of my sanity. Thus, I got the news about the slaughter at Virginia Tech little by little during the day, gauging the progress of the unfolding tragedy with a picture here, a sound byte there -- much as we gauge the progress and lack thereof in Iraq.
The first thing I heard was Ed Schultz, a “progressive” talk-radio jock who was arguing with one of his call-in listeners that this was an “isolated incident,” that the last time anything similar had occurred was at the University of Texas in 1966, and then there had been seventeen deaths. I’m not sure what point “Big Eddie” was trying to make, nor for that matter have I ever figured out why he and Al Franken call themselves “progressives,” since they never talk about Eugene Debs nor Joe Hill nor any other of my progressive heroes. Their type seems always to want to reassure us that this is the best of all possible worlds, even if things get a little messy from time to time. We just need to throw out the Repubs and all will be fine.
I tried to call Big Eddy and tell him this was no “isolated incident,” that this sort of random murder is endemic in America, the land of the criminally inane, but, alas, I could not get through. In a few days Big Eddie and most of his audience will forget about this “isolated incident,” and they will trade barbs about whatever sports team and the foolishness of Bush and the neocons and all of it will be transmitted into space for some aliens to make sense of in the coming eons for certainly no one can piece it together now.
Later that night, on my local station, broadcasting from the nation’s capital, the newscaster with the earring in his ear -- trying hard to be Ed Bradley, but lacking Bradley’s punch and candor -- was telling his co-anchor about some brave thing one of the students at Virginia Tech had done, and how this somehow meant that the students there were already “trying to put this terrible tragedy behind them.” Perhaps the co-anchor responded that they were “moving on.” She said something of the sort, but her words were already part of the netherland in which our public discourse takes place; something heard vaguely, of no consequence, glancing against a soft web of meaning.
On the nightly news I caught Brian Williams, fittingly in a black overcoat, interviewing two Virginia Tech male students about how they heard the “bang, bang, bang, bang” of the “shooter’s” gun and crouched behind desks as their fellow students were slaughtered. Oddly, it wasn’t the students’ actions that impressed me -- I’m sure I would have been similarly inclined. It was the paucity of their expression that distressed. It seemed that they were living in some sort of cartoon, that the cartoon world of “wham” and “bang, bang” had suddenly come to life and they found themselves bewildered, yet somehow made palpable beings by the presence of TV cameras.
I am not sure if it was Williams or that new guy on Nightline who made the comment about “healing.” (Is there a relationship between being telegenic and moronic? Shall we ever penetrate this mystery?) I am sure many pundits made such comments during the day and I missed them or purposely tuned them out for fear of succumbing to their awful, beguiling spin.
I wonder now: Why must we always talk about healing? Aren’t there some events we should never forget? What is this need to “move on,” to put an end to painful memories?
A couple of months ago, I heard that scientists -- at least those “scientists” who work in pharmaceutical labs, the drug merchants -- have developed a pill that enables the patient to numb particularly painful “numbing” experiences. A woman who has suffered rape may take the pill and forget the worst details of the horrid experience. Perhaps, I wondered, we shall soon see these wonder drugs marketed before and after the Cialis and Levitra commercials, and we won’t have to remember a failing grade, love’s labors lost, or a bout of dyspepsia. Perhaps we shall administer these drugs to our soldiers in Iraq and they will forget the faces of friends killed or collaterally-damaged children.
This has a Shakespearean ring to it, as when Macbeth asks the doctor attending to his guilt-wracked wife:
Canst thou not minister to a mind diseas’d,
Pluck from the memory a rooted sorrow,
Raze out the written troubles of the brain,
And with some sweet oblivious antidote
Cleanse the stuff’d bosom of that perilous stuff
Which weighs upon the heart?
And the doctor replies sagely and succinctly:
“Therein the patient must minister to himself.”
Frankly, I hope we cannot heal from this tragedy in Virginia. I hope the wounds of domestic violence, the festering sores of our ghettoes, the despair of men and women who have had their jobs shipped overseas -- I hope these will stay with us always. And I hope the “dogs of war” we have unleashed upon Iraq will bark and growl for the rest of our lives -- just as the wounds of Vietnam, the assassinations of the Kennedys and King -- those long-ago events of my 20s have stayed with me these hard, blistering years.
We shall have light again, and perhaps we shall earn joy and laughter. But, soft you now, not yet; and not for a long time while so many friends, neighbors and good and innocent strangers suffer here and here upon our planetary home. Let the pundits and the doltish President and the professional commentators shut their mouths and still their pens and cancel their photo ops so the people may dwell in dignity in their shared community of suffering. Then let us ponder how foolishly and mindlessly we have abetted the suffering of ourselves and our fellow creatures, and in what wise ways we may abate it.
Gary Corseri’s work has appeared at CounterPunch, CommonDreams, DissidentVoice, ThomasPaine’sCorner, The New York Times, Village Voice, PBS-Atlanta and elsewhere. His books include Manifestations and Holy Grail, Holy Grail. He can be contacted at: firstname.lastname@example.org.
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