[Philosophical Musing on Media Culture}
By Carl Davidson
The universe throws curve balls at us, now and then.
It seems to want to wake us up, and teach us lessons in impermanence and interconnectedness.
Take the killings at Virginia Tech.
A strange, quiet young Korean man, Cho Seung-Hui, writer of tortured and violent plays and screeds, makes his own solipsistic martial arts-gangsta video of himself, and sends it to the media, in the course of slaughtering 32 people, then killing himself.
The media sensationalizes it. MSNBC ratings go through the roof as its images are repeated, to millions and millions, then all the networks join in the frenzy. As expected, other troubled youth respond, in copy-cat fashion, often only with words, and scares shut down numerous classes across the country. At the same time, discussions of 'healing' get underway.
Talk show commentators are having a time of it. I hear both liberal and conservatives alike carry on about 'looking in the face of evil' and trashing the notions of illness and therapy. Rush Limbaugh and one caller on his show go on about how the Korean youth is an 'America hater,' 'suicide bomber,' and simply evil. Retired FBI guys talk about 'training' students to be able to respond better, and hiring tougher 'security.' People debate police tactics, censorship and guns.
Then a British paper goes to a tiny hut in Korea, and a reporter talks to the boy's grandparents, who say he was a bad kid and 'deserved to die' for his sins.
But the grandparents also reveal the poverty of his parents as they immigrated to the U.S. Most important, they reveal their grandson was diagnosed early with autism, but the poverty all around prevented them from doing much about it, either in Korea or here.
Autism is recently growing with unusual speed in the US. Parents, rich and poor, are desperate for help, since dealing with an autistic child is often beyond any couple, however well off.
One radio personality, Don Imus, takes up their cause. He helps grow their organization for families of Autistic children, and raises millions. His wife, an environmentalist, believes toxins, perhaps in vaccines, are partly to blame, and demands independent research. Wealthy pharmaceutical companies and the Wall Street Journal counter-attack, smearing the couple. But Imus is relentless, and blasts away at their money-grubbing and lies. Largely through his efforts, a compromise measure, offering some relief, gets through Congress, but he pushes on for more substantive solutions, and raises millions more.
Now the effort has stopped, or is at least severely reduced. Imus, as we well know, also indulged in racist, sexist and chauvinist commentary and locker-room 'jokes,' repeatedly, and finally went too far. He realized it, blamed himself and tried to make amends. He promised changes in his show, but accepted whatever he got, saying he had dished it out long enough, now it was his turn to take it.
But a groundswell wanted more. They wanted his show shut down, period, and it was. Many people declared victory over racism and sexism, and to a degree, it was. The media moguls preened about their new-found responsibility and the need for change.
At least until 32 people died at Virginia Tech.
Now we have a new wave of violence featured in the media, and Imus is old news, history.
And we have a new wave of blame, and a new staking out of moral ground against evil.
But you can make a good case that untreated autism, rooted in poverty, was the root cause of what happened at Virginia Tech, however terrible the consequences and the suffering visited on those who didn't deserve it in the least, just as the Rutgers women didn't deserve it in the least.
The whole thing reminds me of Thich Nhat Hanh's long poem, 'Call Me by My True Name.' It's about looking deeply, in the poem, about a Thai sailor, and his raping and killing Vietnamese boat people. It's too long a story to retell here, but do yourself a favor and read it, or better yet, listen to it sometime.
But given this latest curve ball, I think I'll wait a bit before declaring either Don Imus or Cho Seung-Hui, connected in this curious way, to be evil, or at least, in the case of Imus, who's still with us, beyond public redemption.