• Alienation, Masculinity, and Mass Shootings

    June 29, 2022 // 9 Comments »

    There’s a well-done, nasty piece of filmmaking available on Hulu right now called Pistol, ostensibly a Sex Pistols biopic but so much more. The series is only partially about the Pistols themselves and more about the world of post-war Britain which formed them. It seems to suggest all that anger and despair was going to have to come out somewhere, either repressed and hidden, crunched deep down inside like the faceless masses of people, or allowed to lance out as “music,” more screaming than lyrical. I wonder if America is not somewhere similar in evolution itself.

    Post-war Britain was a terrible place to grow up it seems for a boy, his role models limited to the broken men who survived World War II (sharply portrayed in Pink Floyd’s The Wall) or the feminized male left overs from the immediate after war years, near-satirized if it wasn’t true by The Who in large portions of their work, including the step-dad in Tommy and most pointedly, Quadrophenia. No wonder the most masculine role model of the era was a woman named Margaret Thatcher with her hen-pecked, besweatered hubby in tow.

    Pistol on Hulu does the time period justice, showing one Pistol as the victim of a sexually abusive step father (his “real” dad having run off) and a groupie, herself the forced plaything of a broken hospital orderly who drives her to insanity. Self-hate is expressed with torn clothing and garish hair styles. It is a bleak world so when Johnny Rotten sings of no future and anarchy in the UK you have no choice but to agree with him. Of course the songs only have three chords, that’s about the limit you can finger out without lessons and anything more would be making music not screaming for help. Screaming feels better.

    Far from “rainbow friendly” and coming as it does during Pride Month, Pistol is an odd thing. My thoughts on Pride Month were shaped by a gay boss, now deceased. He joined the Federal workforce in an era when being found out meant instead termination. Even as standards began to relax he was forced to officially list his common-law spouse on visa paperwork as “domestic helper,” most foreign countries having a visa category for toilet cleaners and cooks but not for someone you have been in love with for ten years. On our regular security clearance updates my boss was forced to pretend to be straight, as while day-to-day standards had moved forward the bureaucracy clung on and standing up as a gay man still meant loss of the required security clearance.

    I wondered why he put up with it all; the job just was not worth it it seemed. But my boss explained there was no other way. He did not grow up in a world where men would march with men and every business from Disney to Doritos had something special to for Pride Month. His role models were either deeply closeted men, or actors like Liberace so self-parodying that society let them be at least a version of themselves. He was inside an angry man, my boss.

    So I approach Salvador Ramos with complex thoughts, not all of them harsh. His real dad had run off, and he was raised by a mother and grandmother leaving him with those same unclear role models for masculinity in that tiny Texas town. It’s ironic most don’t know Ramos by name, as infamous as he is. He was the Uvalde mass shooter. You know, mass shooter, ’bout a month ago? We don’t recognize his name because he never mattered; even now the details of his life are unimportant absent a near-generic statement was a “loner.” And just the way he wanted it, the only thing he is known for is shooting up that elementary school. He even bought himself the murder weapon as a self-birthday present on his 18th. Bet his mom got him a Kohl’s gift card if anything at all.

    When asking why we have so many male (nobody can name even one female mass shooter in a nation that experiences hundreds of mass shooting incidents each year) mass shooters the issue of masculinity and role models rarely comes up. But as punk emerged as angry, angry music from the lack of post-war role models in Britain, and my boss’ anger was suppressed alongside his sexuality, I wonder about modern America. Are we creating these shooters by the anti-masculine society we have created to raise boys? Does a lack of role models for proper masculinity drive disgruntled boys to create their own twisted visions of hyper-masculinity, complete with the clothes and guns not for sale at Kohl’s?

    Jillian Peterson, an associate professor of criminology, and James Densley, a professor of criminal justice, profile mass shooters. They find early childhood trauma seems to be a foundation element. Then they see the build toward hopelessness, despair, isolation, and self-loathing. They start asking themselves, “Whose fault is this?” Is it a racial group or women or a religious group, or is it my classmates? The hate turns outward. For some, that takes the form of a shooting, often followed by suicide in the ultimate act of self-hatred. Peterson concisely explains the predominance of male mass shooters: they have male mass shooter role models.

    There is little doubt our society devalues masculinity. Tabs are kept on the number of women elected and appointed, while white men are left off the carousel of lived experience that brings school board meetings and presidential debates to a screeching halt with the phrase “As a ____…” The handful of masculine role models (usually wrapped in race) are caricatures, hip hop artists hung with babes and sports stars similarly bejeweled. For every unshaven Pitt there is a soft-edged Clooney, for every Springsteen there are a dozen Harry Styles. Where have you gone, Joe DiMaggio? Replaced by Paul Lynde in center square.

    Society does not create mass shooters and punk bands as much as it creates the conditions of anxiety and defiance that can create mass shooters and punk bands. That’s why in our anti-masculine society we thank God only one shooter pops up among tens or hundreds of thousands of boys seeking a masculine role model and finding only another boy clad in black tactical gear. It seems the “solution” for our epidemic of mass shootings has to lie beyond the weapons. If Salvador Ramos had had only a hand gun, would we call it a victory if he’d only killed six people instead of 21? What you can do with a knife versus what you can do with a semi-automatic weapon is clear, but is our best solution just to challenge future mass shooters to be more creative in their use of fire, poison, and the like to achieve high kill rates as they search for identity amid anti-masculine idols?

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    Posted in Other Ideas