Sunday, April 21, 2013

Invasion Of The Body Snatchers

Thoughts on a fucked-up week:

People don't think that people like me, ultra-liberal and questioning and doubting and often cynical, care about this country, but we end up being the sensitive ones who hang on every twist and turn of a terrorist event like the one in Boston, not because we're screaming for vengeance, but because we are the ones who feel the psychic damage from this kind of complex pain.  Not the only ones.  I know that.  But the ones who aren't out in the streets waving flags because all of our trauma is internalized.

And so, at this house today, we are depressed.  There might be a kind of relief, a sense of closure, but neither of those feelings can mitigate the overwhelming sense of sadness and loss.  We can't shake the last week, no matter how we try.

How could you not when four people are dead, a beautiful boy with an ice cream and young women and a young man who wanted nothing more than to be a police officer, when hundreds are injured, when a sacred event now will always have this history, when some combination of influences has turned a promising 19-year-old boy into a cold-blooded killer?

The 26-year-old I don't feel much for, really.  He was old enough to know.  But a 19-year-old boy, for someone who teaches boys ages 17-19, is tragic.  I'm sorry if that doesn't sit well with the out-for-blood crowd, and I don't mean to minimize his crimes or to suggest any lessening of his punishment.  I only know, from 30 years of being around boys that age on an almost daily basis, that they are often unformed things, human beings who don't know what they are, creatures whose brains aren't finished forming, children who can be easily, easily led.  They can do the stupidest things and they are to be held accountable for those things, but that does not make this any less tragic.

There's something of the TV show 24 about the last week--the randomness, the gun violence in the streets, the use of an extensive camera system, the race against the clock, .  It will be difficult, probably impossible, for me to watch that show again.  It has become prescient in ways that I never wanted it to be.  Particularly in its portrayal of Muslim sleeper cells.

Though, even more, now, there is something of the 1950's Communist-fearing feature, Invasion Of The Body Snatchers.  For now, with both citizen paranoia and government urging, we are going to become obsessed with the notion that the Muslim-next-door is actually a terrorist waiting for the right moment to activate, a concept that 24 also used to great effect.

I wish, first of all, that Republicans wouldn't already be trying to politicize the situation by alluding to intelligence failures that they can lay at Obama's feet, but, beyond that, and really more importantly, I wish that they hadn't declared a need for Muslim surveillance, for that will feed the notion of "citizen observer" that Billy wrote about in his last post to the extreme.  We may have benefited from amateur photographs and videos, but we do not need amateur detectives trying to root out the citizen terrorists that may or may not be among us.  George Zimmerman will seem like a neophyte.

We're going to have to retool our popular culture.  There is no longer anything intriguing, for example, about The Americans, that kind-of-engaging imagining of Soviet agents posing as Americans on FX.  Too soon, too soon.  Even if they were before Boston.  I predict the show's doom imminently.

As for me, readers of this blog know that I have been indulging an increasing fascination with canning and preserving over the past few years.  To the extent that last year I bought a pressure cooker as a way of expanding my repertoire (some foods are only safely canned under extreme pressure).  As the pressure cooker sits in this room while I write, it looks like nothing more than a bomb.  I have had that feeling dozens of times this weekend, like every time that I see it.  I will not be expanding my repertoire.  I will not be pressure cooking.  It has become something other than what it was.  It will leave this house.

I was thinking yesterday about the Dropkick Murphys' song "Shipping Up To Boston" yesterday.  Will they play it again?  Will I hear it the same way again?  It used to be weirdly fun to shout out "I lost my leg" while getting pumped up by that song.  Now it doesn't.  Its future as a jacked-up drinking song on a jukebox seems in jeopardy.

People like to think that an event up in the Northeast has no impact on those of us who live in the Southeast. They could not be more wrong.  It isn't, as some media critics have suggested, that television coverage has given the terrorists the platform that they were hoping for.  That's a short-lived pleasure at best.  And it isn't that what happened in Boston has created any particular fear in those of us who live at some distance.  We change not even one behavior out of a thought of safety.  But did it get in our heads?  Absolutely.  Did it take some simple American pleasures away from us?  Most certainly.

And are we who we were before all of this happened?  I say absolutely not.  Despite all of the talk about the character of the city of Boston, the American resolve, and all of that, we find ourselves profoundly changed.  For me, at least, that is a given.  We gained back some innocence during all of the years since 9/11; we gave some things away.  The events in Boston can't help but force us to rethink our society and its boundaries once again.  Now we have to find out if we like who we are, if the Americans who inhabit us going forward are worthy of the accolades we heap on ourselves in times of crisis.


Kath said...

Great post, Dad. Very thoughtful.

Billy said...

Strong post. Your pop culture references ring true, as I have no interest in "The Americans" at the moment (bye-bye the six episodes on my DVR), and your mention of the Dropkick song almost turned my stomach. That said, I had one nit to pick...

The psychology major in me wonders why you are so comfortable dismissing a 26-year-old yet sympathized with the "unformed" 19-year-old. The more we learn about the human mind, the more we realize that most of us never get to some gelatinous "final" state of formation. We're always growing, shifting, adjusting, "maturing."

If you sympathize with 19 but damn 26, where does this mythical switch occur? 21? 24?

If we're talking kids born into cults or fringe religions, then I can see where we must give them reasonable time to see and learn enough to free their minds. But this 19-year-old is spoken of as a good person, as a normal kid. He was not brainwashed from birth; he was "changed." We find "Homeland" compelling because we believe even a man in his 30s could be "turned," and part of the story's power is that most of us sympathize with the man's story.

I've known 13-year-olds capable of knee-buckling viciousness and 70-year-olds naive enough to give Nigerians their bank account numbers. Once -- if -- we learn more, perhaps we can know better who and how to sympathize. But to do so due to seven measly chronological years of life seems a stretch.

Bob said...

Well, to be clear, I don't sympathize with the younger killer, though I do find his circumstances potentially tragic. For me, it's all about the family narrative, and in that context, 7 years is huge, especially the 7 years that an older brother has on a younger brother. A brother that much older is sometimes idolized or worshipped, especially if the father is not in the picture, and especially if that older brother is a superb athlete as this one seems to have been. A bigger, stronger, more worldly brother like that has the potential to wield undue influence on his younger sibling.

It may turn out that the younger brother radicalized the older one, and then I'll have to rethink this, but so far, it's the older one who seems to have made the outside contacts, who incurred the domestic violence charge, who posted the YouTube stuff, who had the FBI investigating him. He seems to be the one who pushed things forward. If only, for the good of all, the younger brother had the strength to stay out of it or to stop it in some other way.