Monday, February 25, 2008

Chewing Gum

There are few words more guaranteed to have people roll their eyes to the ceiling than: “Now, when I was a boy…”, usually followed by a rambling account of how much better (or worse, depending on the teller and/or the circumstances of the telling—I’m sure good cases can be made for both points of view) life was than it is today.

But I do remember that at one time the worst thing in the world for a student would be to be sent to the principal’s office for a chewing gum in class. If there was an occasional altercation between boys, it involved fists, not guns or knives. I cannot remember one single incident of a girls engaging in a physical confrontation.

There was, I’m sure, a lot of hurtful gossip, since gossip seems to be in our genes, but there was no internet upon which to post gratuitous cruelty for all the world to see.

I often jot down a few lines for a prospective blog, then hit “save” and wander away. I began this entry on the morning of the shootings at NIU, and as I wrote the first sentences, listening to the then-breaking news, the reports were saying that 18 had been shot, but luckily that there appeared to be only one dead. I remember thinking “Only one”?, as if one didn’t really count. Well, that gradually changed as the deaths rose. Still, compared to Virginia Tech, only six dead, as though it were all some sort of grotesque game with a gigantic scoreboard: Virginia Tech, 32; NIU 6. Virginia Tech wins by a landslide!

As our world grows ever more inured to death, destruction, and misery, we as individuals also become inured to it. Six dead, or thirty-two dead, or 250,000 dead? Really too bad, but shit happens. Until it happens very close to home, to someone we know.

The harsh reality of life is that good news does not get anywhere near the attention of some tragedy or other. Perhaps it is because we consider our own lives so lacking in excitement that we look for it in the misery and misfortunes of others. And it can be argued that the news media, a bottom-line (and frequently bottom-feeding) industry, while frequently blamed for using whatever titillation it can to attract more readers or viewers and therefore more advertisers is only giving the public what it wants..

Still, there should be limits. I find it equal parts stupifying and infuriating when swarms of reporters, like pirana with microphones and cameras, swarm the home of some pretty young—usually blonde, always white—coed who has just been brutally murdered. What has become of our humanity when some bright-eyed reporter shoves a microphone in the faces of the grieving family to ask: “And how did you feel when you found out your daughter was dead?” There is no font or typeface large enough to print the appropriate “DUH!”

I freely admit that I find myself mesmerized by accounts of major disasters, but for me the fascination lies not in the physical suffering of the victims, but in the bravery and nobility so often displayed out by those involved. It is for me a reminder that all is not lost, and that we can, under duress, rise above our circumstances and show a glimmer of what we should all be, all the time.

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