If 32 Americans were killed in Iraq, how many hours of news coverage would they get? Or if 132 were killed in car wrecks during prom week? Without the media to tell us, we wouldn’t know what was important.
I heard of the Virginia Tech shootings over Fox News while I waited in the service lounge of the local Chevy dealership. I heard of it, and heard of it, and heard of it; for three and one half hours, I heard of it. In the background, Barry Manilow sang romantic music, and the grill of a $66,000 Cadillac truck reflected a harsh fluorescent glow against the gray day that drooped beyond the floor to ceiling windows. Occasionally, I would take a walk among the acres of cars. Battleship-size SUVs are not a thing of the past, I thought, as I noted the twenty inch tires on Tahoes and Escalades.
Fox had nothing new or remotely reliable to show or report, yet it couldn’t keep from showing and reporting, with split screen coverage no less. Every few minutes, the same police dogs sniffed the same spot of grass on one side of the screen while the same photographers photographed the same other photographers on the other. The announcer interviewed a student over the telephone. “Like, me and my roommate heard that the killer chained the doors,” she reported dutifully over a bad connection. “Did I understand you to say that the killer chained the doors?” the announcer asked in what I took to be mock horror. “Well, like, that’s what the man on the TV said.”
The “fair and impartial” network decided early on that Virginia Tech was to blame for not closing the campus after the first shootings, and every question was framed to prove it. The day dragged on, and I wondered why I didn’t care more. I felt bored in advance by the coming days of eulogies, analyses, and blame; and I wanted to go home. Beyond that, my thoughts were as lifeless as the machines by which I was surrounded, any one of which cost more than most people in the Third World earn in a lifetime of making things for Americans. A dozen other customers watched the flat-screen TV alongside me, and no one said anything. No one looked like they felt anything. Maybe they too just wanted to go home.
The dealership had a café, and outside the café there stood a fountain that kept throwing water back into the rainy skies, but the rain just kept on falling, and falling, and falling. I wished I had a new lover. A new lover would make me feel alive. A new lover would make me feel that something mattered. A new lover would give me a new illusion, and a new illusion would devour my thoughts, at least until she wasn’t new anymore.
I had wine for supper tonight, and I will blame what I just wrote on it, because the responsibility simply cannot be my own. The shooter at Virginia Tech—was he responsible? All the explanations we are likely to hear will be either dismissive or excusatory. They will prove that he was crazy or evil, or they will prove that society is crazy or evil, but that’s as far as they will go, and it’s not very far. Maybe we don’t really want to understand him because “…if you stare long enough into the Abyss, the Abyss stares also into you.” Surely, the shooter at Virginia Tech stared into the abyss for an awfully long time.