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Sunday, December 23, 2012

A new low for The Economist

Blogging at Democracy in America, Matt Steinglass writes about the Newtown masacre in an article entitled "Fake Tears":

Those of us who view the events remotely, however, unless we start to evince a newfound appetite for gun-control measures to prevent future mass slayings, are doing little more than displaying and enjoying our own exalted strickenness. This is an activity at which we, as a culture, excel. Americans' postmodern eagerness for self-aggrandising displays of grief over events that did not actually happen to us was captured over two decades ago in the still-remarkable "Heathers"; as that movie understood, mass slayings at schools provide the perfect backdrop of "senseless" tragedy against which the public can profile its own angst and bogus sorrow.

Thomas de Zengotita, in his book "Mediated", has a nice analysis of the way the Western public's treatment of media-transmitted tragedies evolved from Pearl Harbor through the assassination of JFK to the death of Princess Diana, as the public gradually came to see these moments chiefly as occasions to stage its own overwrought little emotional performances, like teenagers boasting unconvincingly of how upset they are by another kid's parents' divorce. "Princess Diana's mourners," wrote de Zengotita, «so many of them, so obviously exhibiting their grief, not even pretending that they weren't exhibiting it, understanding that this was their role, in both the sociological and theatrical sense, understanding that they were there for this purpose in service of the Global Show that their very presence was inciting, producing and promoting in real time...»

The killings in Newtown, of course, appear just as "senseless", if one insists on ruling out the idea that such episodes might be forestalled by limiting people's access to firearms. Indeed, it's most convenient for media purposes when such tragedies are truly "senseless"; it lends them a nicely wistful aura, and makes it easier for the grief-performing public to spin them in whatever creative fashion they like. (See Ross Douthat's weepy response, which tacks clear to Dostoevsky and Ivan Karamazov. Alack, the death of innocents; is God even possible in such a world, and so forth.) And as of last Thursday, we certainly appeared to have given up any pretense of trying to prevent future school massacres. (...)

More horrible still — to me at least — is the inevitable lament, “How could we have let this happen?” It is a horrible question because the answer is so simple. Make it easy for people to get guns and things like this will happen. (...)

So unless the American people are willing to actually do something to stop the next massacre of toddlers from happening, we should shut up and quit blubbering. It's our fault, and until we evince some remorse for our actions or intention to reform ourselves, the idea that we consider ourselves entitled to "mourn" the victims of our own barbaric policies is frankly disgusting.
Which is basically a fancy and long way of saying that those who feel sad about the massacre but do not believe stricter firearm laws in Connecticut would have made any difference are simply evil hypocrites. Such a civilised way to raise the bar on what is a complex academic debate in which the evidence actually refutes Steinglass' position.

Ironically, in a post which is all about fake emotions, there is no question raised about the authenticity of Obama's emotional reaction to the shooting (personally I found this one far more genuine). But I guess there can be no doubt about it because he's on the gun-control side.

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