From April 23, 2007: Oh, what a sad time it is.

On the John

A story entitled, “Oh What A Sad Time It Is”

Originally completed April 23, 2007

...until Virginia Tech went down.
...until Virginia Tech went down.

What a week it’s been.

Imus, Duke lacrosse, and now this. Not that a few stupid words spoken on the radio or a false rape accusation can be considered at all comparable to mass murder, but I can’t shake the feeling that Virginia Tech is destined to become yet another squandered opportunity for social self-evaluation, lost in the name of short-sighted blame games. So let’s get to it!

Gun control…yeah, there’s that. I suppose one could make the argument that when a 23-year-old man is deemed by a state judge to be “mentally ill” and “an imminent danger to self or others,” he probably shouldn’t be allowed to legally purchase guns. (pauses, thinking) I suppose one could argue that.

But stricter gun laws cannot prevent a person from being evil and crazy and rampagy. Finding a gun is easy, particularly once you’ve managed to clear the whole “I definitely want to kill people” fence. It would be nice to think that even the most staunch of 2nd Amendment defenders would be willing to meet us “halfway” at the banning of ASSAULT rifles and spray-crazy semi-automatics, but as it turns out, you can kill a whole slew of people with a 9 MM Glock 19 if you try hard enough, so who knows.

Amazing, ain’t it? After all these shootings, we finally learn that the only difference between the memorable and the forgettable is good aim. That’s it. That’s all there is to it. I mean, it was sheer luck that the two Columbine psycho-assholes only killed 13 people despite being armed with multiple semi-automatics and oodles of bombs. A miracle, right? But 13 was the high, and so we spent weeks discussing gun control and Marilyn Manson and teen depression and high school hierarchies and all sorts of other topics that can only be taken seriously within the confines of, ya know, mass murder.

This is what comes from defining Big News by physical weight rather than potential for understanding. We get huge news stories about some events and small news stories about others, because after all, it’s not news we’re getting, but news stories, and stories have to be entertaining, lest they are no fun at all for anyone.

And we must have fun. Oh lord, yes. We must have tragedy! And celebrity! We must have motives and timelines and weepy tales and all of the other elements of a great story. And of course we’ll need lots of visuals, particularly of the killer, because there’s just no way we could comprehend all of this without opening TIME Magazine or logging onto and finding a huge picture of the psycho-asshole aiming his gun straight at our faces. A story like this is only as good as its villain, and lucky for us, this twisted jerk was only too eager to supply one.

But story is not enough. No! We also need Proper Historical Perspective. And for that, we get The List. I love The List. What it does is, it runs down the total number of deaths in each U.S. school shooting, with the highest total listed at the top. What was really cool about this one was that it had the most deaths, like, ever, so it got to be in first place right away even though it had only just happened. I’m sure the two Columbine kids are thanking their lucky stars that they came first, because there’s no way they would’ve gotten famous with 13 now. That may have played well in 1999, but you’ll have to do better to turn my head here in 2007.

And that’s what we like, right? Competition. It’s not enough to have the Super Bowl and the World Series and the Final Four and the Kentucky Derby and the Stanley Cup and the Masters and the Indy 500 and god damn American Idol. Nope…we also get to play Top That Killer. Now to go along with suicide, the next psycho-asshole has two more goals: 33, and a bigger multimedia manifesto. Well wonder-fucking-ful…

I’m sorry. Please excuse my boorish language. It’s just…well, I tend to get jazzed up by people who kill a bunch of people and then also by people who turn those people into famous people. I’ll settle down soon. In the meantime, we can discuss ways to avert some of these petty annoyances listed above. Or not. Whatever works. To be honest, I’ve always preferred simply hearing the stories and seeing how they stack up against the others I’ve heard. Detailing and documenting and listing have always been more fun than thinking and learning and solving. I blame television, or something.

Actually, I blame myself. I’ve been cynical before, and sad, and thoughtful, and hopeful, and understanding, but I’ve never been angry. Never just let out some anger. And frankly, I’m disappointed that it finally happened in a column about a single shooting rather than one about that whole war thing happening over there. But the point is, I’m trying, and I am confident that I have successfully conveyed some of that anger in this column. And that makes me happy. Because maybe if some of us showed a lot more anger every so often while others decided to show a lot less, the world would be a better place.

Rather corny, I know, but what can I say? I’m just a sentimentalist.

Copyright 2007, jm silverstein


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