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It's Not So Funny Anymore: Gabrielle Giffords and American Rage

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Sarcasm has always worked real well for me. It's a way of looking at the world that, while pessimistic, carries its own resolution -- yeah, the sky is falling, but we can still make jokes about it. It's the language of survivors.

But, as with everything, there are moments when me and my smart mouth need to stand back, head bowed. Arizona Rep. Gabrielle Giffords shooting in Tucson Saturday is one of those moments.

Politics have never been pretty: a putrid stew of violence, betrayal, and lies. A few minutes with any decent history book will illuminate that for even the dullest of minds. But Americans, in spite of the evidence -- Lincoln, Kennedy, King, insist we're somehow immune to such realities; it just doesn't happen here. It's a conceit of convenience, made all the more implausible when the floor finally gives way. It does happen here, and all the ipods and Big Macs in the world can't ever change that unfortunate fact.

Despite the aforementioned ipods, there have been countless allusions to America's descent to Third World status in the press over the past decade or so, allusions that seem more and more apt as our disappointment in Washington grows. Radical Jared Loughner's attempted assassination of Rep. Giffords, a decidedly moderate Democrat, italicizes that sentiment. The only things missing were the machetes

It isn't like we haven't been prepping for the event: our hatred, our frustration, our anger at changes none of us could have anticipated, and the helplessness that naivete engenders -- brewing, bubbling and boiling over. It was kind of inevitable. Frankly, I'm surprised it hasn't happened sooner than this.

While they shouldn't shoulder all the blame, Palin, Limbaugh, Beck, and the rest nonetheless have blood on their hands. In many ways, so do I. Referring to politicians I don't care for as "two-legged urinary tract infections" who need to be taken out and "euthanized" might seem to me like I'm channeling Lester Bangs, when, in the real world, I'm only throwing fuel on the fire, doing my bit to see just how nasty it can get. And I'm not at all pleased with the results.

I lack easy answers to the mess we're in. Actually, I don't believe there are any easy answers, only hard questions -- questions we've been running from all our lives, questions we've got to stop and withstand. Are we really the home of the brave and the land of the free? Are we the epitome of our hyperbole or living the blackest of lies? Should we wave our flag with bravado or hide our heads in shame?

But I don't think we want those answers, for they'll disillusion us perhaps beyond repair. What if 9/11 really was a right-wing conspiracy? What if the government really is helping transfer the nation's wealth into the pockets of a greedy few? What if Afghanistan and Iraq really are no more than oil company interventions, the real villains paid off in subsidies and the sweat and tears of those they say we're there to protect? What then? What now? I don't think anyone knows for sure.

In light of this, a cliched laugh line like "What, should we all sit around in a circle and sing Kumbaya?" seems less sarcasm than particularly good advice. We're at war, at war with ourselves; our motivations, our instincts, our dreams are now on the metaphorical firing line. And only we can rise above the ramparts we've built. Only we can search for some spark of commonality with our so-called enemies, if only for the life force flowing through our collective veins. Only we can craft something good from the bad, and only we can utilize this tragedy as a cause for needed reflection in thought, word and deed.

Wouldn't it be nice if we could all just get along?

 

Tom Aiken is a writer based in Austin, Texas. He has written for numerous publications including The Village Voice, Heavy Metal amd M'Zine (RIP). Mr. Aiken also has a spanking new blog -- AikenLand -- for publication of his more unpublishable work. (more...)
 

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