Thursday, December 06, 2007

Man Shoots Himself In The "Customer Service Area"

Am I the only one who's becoming desensitized to the media's obsessive fascination with public gun massacres lately? It seems not a few months can go by without hearing about some other troubled youth who reaches the breaking point of poor coping skills and decides to take it out in every way but right on every single person who had nothing to do with his overexaggerated problems. It's getting to the point where it's nearly impossible to detect any hint of sincere concern on the news anchors' faces as they rape the sensationalism out of the story to boost their ratings and justify their salaries.

Was I the only one who felt it was more than slightly inconsiderate to make the surviving witnesses recount the stories not hours after the incident occurred? These people were happily shopping for Christmas presents with their families in a mall one second, and the next second they were watching fellow shoppers exploding with blood while they wondered if they and their children were going to make it out alive. It seems a little cruel to then shove a microphone in front of their face and ask them to recount what they saw in shaky, staccato voices as they choke back a nervous breakdown in front of every television viewer in America.

This is stuff that they'll probably need months, if not years, of psychological counselling to deal with. You can't expect a middle-aged housewife or a part-time softlines associate college student or a marketing department manager who've never seen violence outside of a Die Hard movie to just deal with suddenly being thrust into a type of scenario that gives even hardened combat veterans recurring nightmares. I'm not saying that it's not perfectly acceptable to have them recount the details of their psychological trauma to a large viewing audience only hours after experiencing it; I'm just saying that it probably doesn't help matters much.

What purpose do their accounts serve anyway? If there's one thing news anchors have a hard time doing these days, it's asking relevant questions to massacre survivors. I never hear them ask questions like, "What warning signs made you realize this man was a potential threat?" or "What did you do once you realized that the man had a gun?" It's always questions like, "What did you think the popping noises were before you realized they were gunfire?" What do you expect the witness to say? "I thought someone was smashing puppy skulls with a hammer at the customer service counter of Macy's." How is that question in any way relevant? "What did you think when you found out someone opened fire where your wife worked?" That was an actual question asked to a survivor's husband. What would you expect him to say? "I was thinking I'd probably have to cook dinner while she was busy pissing herself about almost getting killed."

They interviewed one man who was shot in the arm. He seemed pretty stunned. He was probably somewhere between not quite believing he's still alive and trying to rationalize the insanity inside his brain so he doesn't completely shut down. The introductory question he was asked was, literally, "How are you doing today?" Now, I might be reactionary, but my answer would probably be along the lines of "I WAS FUCKING SHOT IN THE ARM! HOW THE FUCK DO YOU THINK I'M DOING TODAY?!" A few more irrelevant questions followed, like "So you and your wife were out Christmas shopping?" and "How far away do you think you were from the gunman when he hit you?" The final question kind of caught me as insensitive as well, though: "I'm sure you've realized that a few inches to the left or the right, and that bullet might have hit a lot more vital part than just your arm. Have you considered that, and how does that make you feel?" How do you answer a question like that? How does a newscaster even ask a question like that without giant dicks just vomiting out of his throat? "No, I haven't really thought about that, but thanks for bringing up the possibility that I could be dead right now! I'll be sure to have fun with that in my therapy sessions you impudent lump of journalistic iniquity!" Something like that is how I would have answered the question. I mean, I'm the one they invited on to boost their ratings by insulting their viewers' intelligence; it's not like I owe them anything by being there.

You'd think that, instead of making the survivors recount the horrific details of their psyche-scarring episode, the news would leave them to get whatever therapy they needed to deal with their feelings, and instead invite actual experts onto their show to inform the viewers how to discern warning signs to watch for while out in public, and what to do if this sort of thing happens where they are. That way, if a guy comes into a mall, or a school, or a bus depot wearing Army surplus and carrying an automatic rifle, ordinary citizens might be more prepared in the future to deal with what inevitably comes next, because it doesn't seem like this is going away anytime soon.

So far, what authorities have been able to piece together, the two main factors that pushed shooter Robert Hawkins over the brink of insanity were a break-up with his girlfriend and being fired from McDonald's. See, this is where the problem with our society becomes evident. We are simply not teaching all of our kids how to properly deal with negative events anymore. People break up with their significant others all the time. Most figure out how to cope with it and keep on searching for that one relationship that will be better than their last. Being fired from McDonald's shouldn't even be considered a setback in life considering it's almost more embarrassing to admit you work there. Losing a girlfriend or being fired from a fast food restaurant doesn't make you a loser. Dealing with it by opening fire on a shopping mall is what makes you a loser.

The fact that these were the two catalysts that drove an already troubled kid to mass violence is as telling as it is shocking. The blame patrol is already out in force with this guy, picking apart his interests and harping on the fact that he had a history of depression and ADHD. I just read a column that was actually, with a straight face, blaming anti-depressant drugs for mass violence, citing all sorts of connections to include the fact that the Columbine killers were also taking anti-depressant drugs. This substantial mountain of circumstantial evidence fails to admit one important thing: People take anti-depressants because they already have a mental illness. Could it possibly be, in our wildest imaginations, that it's not the anti-depressant drugs that are causing violent outbursts, but the fact that the people who take them are taking them because there is already something wrong with their brains? Could this be, then, the same thing that causes people who listen to Nine Inch Nails and KMFDM and watch The Matrix to commit acts of unspeakable violence as well? Not that there's something wrong with the music or movies that are enjoyed by billions of sane people all over the world, but that there's something wrong with the brains of the one or two people who go out and murder?

Just a thought. Until we as a society decide to drag our malformed abominations out of their cages in the basement and deal with them, this is going to continue to happen. Our denial that the problem could lie in any way with our social, economic, political, or family situations in this country is going to consume us and spit us out like so many shell casings. Until our media can stop glorifying these events in the backs of our collective conscious, our children are going to keep learning that if they feel they have no other way to make a name for themselves, gunning down a mall will ensure they're a household name for at least a week. This guy said in his final note that he wanted to be famous, and this is how he decided to stake his claim, because this has been reinforced to us as a quick way to noteriety.

Finally, it sounded a little too much like crude innuendo when the news correspondent misplaced her prepositional phrase to announce that Robert Hawkins ended his life by shooting himself in the "customer service area."

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