dylan klebold and eric harris. seung-hui cho. adam lanza.
do you know these names? sadly, i do.
columbine. virginia tech. sandy hook. respectively.
i can call those names to mind immediately, as if prepared for some macabre trivial pursuit question.
now, ask me to name one, just one, of the victims of their heinous crimes.
i can’t name a single person.
that’s 71 unknown innocent people, many teens and children, who died because of the aforementioned individuals. i cannot call to mind their names, or faces, without employing a pathetically (on my part) undignified google search. and yet their murderer’s name is as familiar to me as any pop icon. so in my life, the villian became famous, while their victims became meaningless numbers. it’s personally problematic. i’m sure some of you have had the same experience.
in the wake of the boston bombings and the onslaught of our 24 hour news cycle it is clear the seeds for this trend are happening again, and the disconnect occurs because of our tendency to mythologize the perpetrator. we endlessly examine their mystery, their motivations, their dynamics, their lives, and perhaps understandably so, as we desperately search for context and explanation. but, perversely, in doing so, we relegate the victims to becoming statistics. we somehow make that tragic loss of life less important than the behavior of, at the end of the day, sad human beings who turned their desperation into violence.
a recent example of this (perhaps inadvertent) glorification is a piece circulating the social media waves by the reverend michael rogers, published by the huffington post blog. in it rev. rogers writes a letter to the current suspect of the bombings (who in exercising a principle of this post, i won’t name) and claims that while the guy is being accused of killing 3 people, injuring 180 people, some severely, life-alteringly, and also attempting to kill, in theory, the reverend’s family members and friends, he cannot hate him. because, he says, the suspect is a kid, who would inevitably have made mistakes, and that as a human being he wants to forgo hate, as there has been enough, and hold out hope for this child criminal.
forgive me reverend, but, what are you talking about? why should he be the focus of any of our compassion at this stage? why are we talking about his youth and the sadness of him being caught up in these atrocious acts less than the tragedy of an 8 year old child, martin richard, who was murdered. this suspect should not be the focus of our discussion. this tragedy isn’t about hating or loving an accused murderer, it’s about innocence being destroyed, unity being compromised, and unnecessary suffering. to be honest, our response to the situation should have almost nothing to do with the perpetrator. in a totally abstract sense is it tragic that a young person got caught up in terrible behavior? yes. but in reality, that person made a decision, and no matter what argument is given as justification, it would never be even moderately understandable let alone deserving of sympathy.
the answers about his motivations will come. the trials. the verdicts. the analysis. and hopefully justice will be served. but then, shouldn’t we forget this person? they should spend the rest of their life contemplating their actions, with the hope that they understand what they have cost people who deserved far better. and then he should become the statistic, an incarcerated number, not the people he is accused of destroying.
but in order for that to be the case, we have to be conscious of the conditions that have allowed the opposite to be the usual case.
it is a perplexing part of our culture to glorify the villain. i’m as guilty as anyone else of tending to find the villain to be the most interesting character in a story. as an actor, 90% of the time i’d rather play the villain than the hero. tybalt, iago, richard iii, macbeth, are far more compelling than their heroic counterparts. we see it in films constantly. we applaud the villains, love them, and secretly hope they get away with their actions, so we can keep watching. but perhaps that should only be true in fictional contemplations. in real life, these kind of individuals don’t deserve attention. we turn them into our anti-heroes, when in truth they are pathetic. this bombing is no different, it was cowardly, useless, nonsensical, and loathsome.
while reverend rogers’ overall message of reducing hate is obviously commendable, it is also misguided and frankly irrelevant. rogers’ language of compassion towards this young man’s mistakes, the sadness at the heinous acts of a child, the tone of forgiveness, only contributes to the mythologizing of an individual who in truth, if found guilty, would surely ideally just spend the rest of their life in jail, forgotten. i can certainly accept that inviting hate into one’s heart is probably not a healthy path, and it’s certainly not productive to wish ill upon anyone, evil or otherwise, but someone willing to murder a child surely doesn’t deserve my sympathy, my compassion, or even my attention. if someone can provide me with a valuable argument as to why i’m wrong, beyond the supposed value behind fluffy, brotherly love, kumbaya, campfire spirit forgiveness of all evils, no matter how heinous (that nothing in my personal experience has ever actually corroborated) then i’m all ears. but i fear that’s the only argument supporting rogers’ maudlin piece, a message that at best is frankly too simplistic to be of pertinent value, and at worst indicative of the kind of anti-hero glorification that leads to misplacing our attention on the perpetrator rather than the victims.
(yes, clearly reverend rogers piece really irritated me. to those who found value in it, my apologies)
i don’t hate dylan klebold, eric harris, seung-hui cho, or adam lanza or any other maniac who chooses to take human lives, but what does that mean? nothing really, bully for me, in truth they shouldn’t warrant enough of my attention to even consider hating them. but i do hate, yes, absolutely hate, what they all have done, and i wish i didn’t know their names with quicker recall than people much more deserving of my memory.
it would be fruitless for me to say ignore the stories about the current suspect, to not learn his name, or his story, it has already been and will continue to be drilled into our minds endlessly. but i think, in the end, perhaps that isn’t really my point. i want us to avoid glorifying him. he shouldn’t be considered anymore sympathetic because he is young and sweet-looking. he shouldn’t be made to look more understandable because he is potentially immature and impressionable. we were all 19, or will be at some point, and most of us would simply not make these kind of decisions.
i wish we could be satisfied with justice being served. gaining peace of mind in understanding what motivated these acts, but those facts alone satisfying the (anti)glorification of this individual. i wish we could focus on stories of martin richard, krystle campbell, lu lingzi, sean collier, the 4 individuals killed in association with the boston bombings. surely they are the ones who deserve our attention. their families are the people who deserve our sympathy and compassion. the 180 wounded are deserving of our interest and care. the men and women first responders, medical professionals, and public safety workers, these people are the story, not the misleading enigmatic romanticism of delinquent psychopathic cowards.
my true wish, and this is my personal effort, is that in the years to come when someone mentions the events of monday’s bombing, instead of the name of a lost individual who committed great evil, it is the names of the innocents who died so unfairly that come to mind.