In his 1993 article, “Defining Deviancy Down,” Patrick Moynihan mentioned a New York Times headline that proclaimed the school year’s “first” shooting. Moynihan added sardonically, “first of the season.”
So far this season, as ABC News informs us, “there have been 25 shootings at or near schools nationwide. Several of the shootings—three in the last week—have been fatal.” This last comment rather understates the execution killing of at least five little Amish girls in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania.
Multiple killings bring out media analysts in a way that quotidian school murders do not. (A seemingly endless list of violent incidents, including “unsuccessful” attempts, can be accessed at schoolsecurity.org.) The “reason” for these killings is generally sought in some specific cause—a twenty year grudge, copycat motives, the availability of guns, the absence of armed guards, Ritalin, video games, bullying, cliques. By focusing on the little picture, which is not a totally useless enterprise, we lose sight of the larger picture—perhaps intentionally.
Karl Marx did not, I think, get everything wrong. One of the common statements made by Marxist scholars goes as follows: “Only the whole is true, and the whole is false.” The comment means that one has to look at the big picture, and that the big picture, presently, is deceptive and rotten.
The big picture in our society includes rotten video games, guns, and Ritalin—but it also includes an obsessive fascination with death presented as entertainment on the CSI family of shows. Here corpses in various stages of decomposition are featured on every show for our viewing pleasure—juxtaposed inevitably with tantalizing shots of nubile bodies that appeal to another basic instinct. Episodes compete with one another to explore new depths of perversity—like raping and killing children.
The big picture includes, likewise, a phalanx of individuals who all insist on the right to do what they want—demanding that others consider their wishes while giving scant attention to matters of reciprocity or to the word “responsibility.”
The big picture includes a society where padded-bra kids are sexualized for profit and where free speech, a la Howard Stern, has devolved into a race for the bottom.
The big picture involves the unprecedented ceding of cultural power to morally vacuous individuals who pollute souls for a living. These electronic traveling salesmen, from Abercrombie and Fitch to Madonna to David Letterman, influence children, collectively, as much or more than parents.
Ponder the TV show Two and a Half Men. Attend to the loud and angry sounds that blare from the hot wheels of young males. Note the sophisticated psychobabble that avoids the terms “good” and “evil.” That is the ugly whole. That is a world where, in the words of Flannery O’Connor’s reflective Misfit, there’s “No pleasure but meanness.”