Tuesday, December 18, 2012

out on a limb

After the semester's conclusion Spiritual Diabetes has returned.  Lots to discuss...

I'll tackle the Sandy Hill elementary school shootings first. There are several posts to follow, but first things first.

28 people dead and, as several folks have observed, it now seems so ordinary:  young male, loner, has legal access to firearms (in this case, including an assault rifle), unspeakable carnage, suicide-at-scene.

But this time:  20 children, ages 6 & 7, killed.  Not just shot, but each shot multiple times.  And, apparently, it could've been worse.  See the Neo-Neocon's assessment for this.

Truth be told, such scenes shouldn't "seem ordinary" -- multiple shooting deaths have become expected?  Still, the deaths of children shock even the most hardened.  Just off the cuff recall the 1995 image of the Oklahoma City firefighter cradling a dead infant after the federal building bombing or the several scenes of U.S. military men and women working with children in Iraq and Afghanistan. 

And now, the deluge.  There are so many blog posts asking why?:  here, here, here, and here are four good ones.  The expected call for greater gun control, though, has gone off the rails.  Thank God there's more reasoned discussion concerning the assessment of mental disability with regard to public safety.  Even the entertainment industry has, at least momentarily, pondered its own role in such tragedies.  One of the reasons why Spiritual Diabetes exists at all is, at times like this, to avoid  fueling the usual fires of, well, the super-sweet but un-nutritional intellectual and spiritual arguments we usually feed ourselves.

With that in mind, we're going rogue with this contribution:  zombie apocalypse.  Hear me out.  My students (mostly the usual undergraduate demographic, ages 18-24) love zombie jokes, movies, Facebook memes, and attire.  Mindless zombies running around with no goal other than DEATH.  (Just whose  death we'll get to shortly.)  You don't need two degrees in film studies to understand the genre's popularity. With movies ranging from Dawn of the Dead (which starts with the incomparable Johnny Cash singing "There's a Man going 'round") to Cloverfield (where unnamed space aliens become the zombies) to more realistic horrors like Contagion (wherein a lightning-fast epidemic utterly unravels the social fabric as its cure eludes the experts) we've become accustomed to, and perhaps even expect, death's sudden, faceless, single-minded presence in our midst. So the inevitable cry "WHY?" gets stifled because something's still out there, seeking only our death.

We entertain ourselves with a genre that celebrates random death and underlines Hobbes' "state of nature" that deep down we're really nothing but senseless, raging animals. In Dawn of the Dead the zombies win!  In  The Road the father and son wander across a post-apocalypse continent teeming with lawless cannibals.  In Contagion the disease is heroically cured but life doesn't go back to 'normal'; garbage lines the street, upscale neighborhoods have been ransacked, sports stadiums have become vaccination centers.

At some point somebody will argue, if they haven't already, that zombie movies are one more attempt to wrestle with the awareness of our own finitude.  We know we're all going to die, but that doesn't help when facing the fact of TWENTY dead first-graders.  A movie genre where senseless carnage wears the costume of mindless death helps elide the pain. 

Back to the students and the t-shirts:  humor about tripping our friends and zombies liking fast food help, too.  Or, the film genre tells us, we'd like to think so.

NOW I AM *NOT* saying the shooter Adam Lansa, any other shooter at similar mass-killings, or anybody with Asperger's or autism is a "zombie."  Not analogy, not a metaphor, zilch.  I am not making those associations.  REPEAT: I am not making that connection.

But I think that we, in our discussions in the aftermath of such tragedies, do just that. Notice the photos of Adam Lansa and attend to the descriptions of him as well as other mass-killing shooters:  inability to feel pain, vacant looks, difference...and the family members' pleas for understanding.  We have an entertainment genre--fueled by our own choices--that tells us that that's ultimately what we really are:  either the zombies that mindlessly feed on the living or the living who can't escape the inevitability of becoming zombie food.

It is telling that in all these science-fiction/zombie apocalypse films there's a "saving remnant" -- some little shred of humanity makes it out alive, at least for the time being.  We'd each like to think that we'll be in that remnant, the chosen few instead of the faceless millions who've fed the zombies or become zombies ourselves.    The Old Testament prophet Amos had something to say about that presumption.  So, once again, the faith's tradition runs afoul of our cultural framing.

Forget the movies---what about our experience?  Right now the nation, and especially the grieving in Newtown, are still in that despair captured by the end of Lamentations.  As Pope Benedict XVI and Elizabeth Scalia have noted (and I'm sure Scalia would herself yield the floor to the Pope!), God sides with the suffering and grants us the room to rant and rage about tragedies like Newtown.  But the Crucifixion ended not with more death but with the Resurrection.  Obviously Newtown isn't there yet;  it's up to the rest of us to help them through.  Because at some point we all face death's onslaught.

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