[W]hy not take the view that the fundamental rule is that of evil, and that any happy event throws itself into question? Is it not true optimism to consider the world a fundamentally negative event, with many happy exceptions? By contrast, does not true pessimism consist in viewing the world as fundamentally good, leaving the slightest accident, to make us despair of that vision? (Jean Baudrillard, Cool Memories III, 1997, p. 138)
After last week’s mass shooting at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina, it’s hard to discount Baudrillard’s emphasis on the presence of evil throughout the world. Baudrillard might sound like a wounded Romantic, but there’s no denying we spend a great deal of our lives either in the midst of tragedy or recovering from it.
The pain and suffering caused by the gunman, twenty-one-year-old Dylann Roof, reminds me of another French philosopher. Jean-Paul Sartre, a firm believer in the free will of the individual, wrote that when a person makes a choice he chooses for himself, but he also chooses for mankind. My choices affect other people and their choices. This is Sartre’s ethics, his caution against acting always in one’s self-interest.
Roof acted alone, but we are complicit as a nation, with our tolerance for hatred and history of institutional racism. Still, the nine lives he took are his burden now. Evil speaks to some more than others, but it touches us all. It’s a crime that Roof ignored a very important lesson: “If you can’t help others, at least do no harm.”
Some observations on the Batman movie massacre two days ago:
It’s clear the line between reality and fantasy is quickly disappearing. When the smoke bombs went off and the gunfire started, moviegoers in Aurora, Colorado at first thought the activity in their theater was a publicity stunt related to the show. That it took a moment for reality to sink in is not a surprise. Beyond being unable to comprehend the chaos around them, the spectators (as do all of us in our media-saturated culture) simply couldn’t distinguish between simulation and flesh-and-blood experience. In America today, where the Image has superseded the Real, even death seems staged, except when people are dying all around you.
Some opportunistic moralists out there might use this event as another example of violent forms of entertainment making people violent. But the potential for violence exists in all of us, regardless of our obedience to civility or the Greater Good. Deft filmmakers like Christopher Nolan (of the latest Batman trilogy) know this, and they market violence-laden movies to a general public that is willing to pay big bucks for the cathartic release of its inner rage. Most of us don’t shoot randomly at innocent people at the local cinema, but for those who carry out such terrible acts, their reasons for pulling the trigger are more complex than being a Dark Knight fanatic.
How long will it take the mainstream media to accept the everywhere-everyday quality of social media? I found both local and national newscasts running stories about the reporting of the story of the Aurora, Colorado Massacre via the cell phone cameras and Qwerty keyboards of people on the scene. Some stations posted Tweets from the shooting site. We saw videos of victims covered in blood being rushed from the theater to safety and medical attention. But the impact of social media is nothing new in 2012. Either the major networks are excited about Joe Citizen helping them deliver the news or they’re singling out Twitter and Facebook and YouTube, etc. as the dreaded Other of broadcast journalism. Regardless, stories about how stories are coming in to the station are overplayed and often induce a “yeah, so what?” response from experienced “breaking news” viewer-creators.