When news broke at Christmastime five years ago of what had happened at Newtown a friend, a news anchor, called and said with a broken voice: “What is the word for what we feel?” I thought for a moment. “Shattered,” I said. “We are shattered, all of us.” When people in ensuing days spoke of what had been done to the little children in the classrooms, I’d put up my hands and say no, we can’t keep putting those words in the air, we can’t afford it. When terrible images enter our heads and settle in, they become too real, and what is real is soon, by the unstable, imitated, repeated.
When Columbine happened in the spring of 1999, it hit me like a wave of sickness. I wrote a piece about the culture of death that produced the teenage shooters: “Think of it this way. Your child is an intelligent little fish. He swims in deep water. Waves of sound and sight, of thought and fact, come invisibly through that water, like radar. . . . The sound from the television is a wave, and the sound from the radio; the headlines on the newsstand, on the magazines, on the ad on the bus as it whizzes by—all are waves. The fish—your child—is bombarded and barely knows it. But the waves contain words like this, which I’ll limit to only one source, the news:
“. . . was found strangled and is believed to have been sexually molested . . . had her breast implants removed . . . took the stand to say the killer was smiling the day the show aired . . . said the procedure is, in fact, legal infanticide . . . is thought to be connected to earlier sexual activity among teens . . . court battle over who owns the frozen sperm . . . contains songs that call for dominating and even imprisoning women . . . died of lethal injection . . . had threatened to kill her children . . . had asked Kevorkian for help in killing himself . . . protested the game, which they said has gone beyond violence to sadism . . . showed no remorse . . . which is about a wager over whether he could sleep with another student . . .
“This is the ocean in which our children swim. This is the sound of our culture. It comes from all parts of our culture and reaches all parts of our culture, and all the people in it, which is everybody.”
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