The “what should be” never did exist, but people keep trying to live up to it. There is no “what should be,” there is only what is.”
The Great American Experiment plods along, wounded again as it has and always will be by those whose sense of freedom goes beyond rational boundaries—beyond rhetoric or artistic expression or dissent—into the well-worn satchel of destruction. Our list of carnage is long and painful and following each is a backlash of panicked reasoning when in reality, as stated here over the past years, whether Columbine or Oklahoma City or 9/11 or Virginia Tech or Fort Hood, it is merely a burp in the system.
Now it’s Tucson. And despite the obvious fact we have another lunatic with a cache of weaponry firing indiscriminately at strangers in a crowd, there is a rush to find societal fault, bad wiring in the machinery, motivations and inspirations in politics, media, art forms. Hardly. It is once again the terrible price paid for a free society, one that we all ultimately choose to live within. Although precarious and predatory, it is theoretically free, and with it comes dangers. Many dangers.
The only issue, as with the above incidents mentioned and the hundreds more before them, is the continued bad policy of assuaging grief by attempting to sanitize the results of what a free society may engender; greed, bigotry, irrational hatred, unchecked vanity cultural and economic envy, and my favorite: stupidity. All part of the human psyche allowed to roam relatively free within the parameters arbitrarily erected by elected officials, who most times create unjust laws or make the repeated mistake to place singular blame of human frailty on a word, a drug, a gun, a song, a cultural movement, a political statement or a religious belief.
Jared Loughner no more killed those people because of a toxic political environment or pseudo-macho imagery from the Sarah Palin web site than those who tried to build a Muslim Cultural Center in lower Manhattan was a direct offshoot or commentary on the horrors of 9/11. This is the way some people see it, or for the purposes of their belief system, may want it, but the reality of which does not exist. It only does so in their heads; the contents of which should never cause a restructure of our basic freedoms; to express individual thought, creativity, sexuality, personal faith, sensibilities, etc.
Long before there was a Reality Check New & Information Desk, the results of which are more or less unfurled here weekly, there has been the constant battle to understand why it becomes so easy for humans to deny the realities of their baser instincts in the veiled attempt to fashion in its place a more palatable fantasy. It is as if there is a rush to accept this universal illusion perpetuated to better ignore Lenny Bruce’s “what is” with a juvenile grab bag of “what should be.”
Forget about rolling the subject all the way back to the first book of the Bible, in which the authors dealt with the fundamental fear in humanity to endure the unfathomable irrationality of nature; the slithering snake in the perfect garden, the eternal sense of security shattered by the primal heart of darkness, and all that crap. Let’s merely delve into the past week, where predating the tragedy in Tucson, three particularly interesting incidents of “what should be” spat defiantly in the eye of “what is”.
Within days of each other there was the incredible story that NewSouth publishers would be releasing a sanitized version of Mark Twain’s Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, the rather auspicious reading aloud of the U.S. Constitution by the newly minted congress, and the insane faux celebrity of a homeless drunkard as some queer form of societal reclamation.
Firstly, NewSouth would literally be rewriting arguably the American literary masterpiece by this nation’s most original and rightfully lauded author. For whatever “what should be” reasons that would either send Mr. Clemens’ ghost writhing in abject rage or rolling about in unfettered laughter, it was apparently more important to cleanse the scarred era of slavery from the American psyche and ignore a pejorative invective to supplicate modern sensibilities.
It is bullshit, plain and simple. Beyond the gall one would have to dare manipulate the manuscript of a master so frivolously is enough of a resounding argument against this atrocity, but to easily overlook Twain’s brilliant satire on the casual dehumanization of a race long before the Emancipation Proclamation could be realized is tantamount to hallucination. There were actual news stories on how many times the offending word was used in the book as if this were some kind of litmus to its existence. A more damaging constraint on intellectual artillery against the evils of society is hard to imagine.
On the same day this idiocy was revealed, the 112th congress thought it cute to underline its objective in holding its governing standards on the priority of the Constitution by having its members each read aloud a portion of it, but thought it prudent to gloss over the flawed tenets on which this nation was founded; as in accepting certain humans as a fraction of their existence. It was also decided that the “what is” of women being denied the right to vote and the outlawing of liquor be expunged from the record, as if these never happened.
A day or so within these two pathetic attempts at trying to deny reality with heavy doses of “what should be,” a poor soul was filmed by a local television station in Ohio and splashed all over the Internet. The ensuing blitz of compassion cum media frenzy had the quite suddenly famous golden-voiced Ted Williams, sporting a rap sheet a mile long and a parade of children apparently unwilling to shelter, spiraling into the kind of oblivion that put him back in the place he had already ended up. Williams is the poster boy for “what should be,” given a host of voice-over gigs within hours of his appearance on the Today Show, and the obligatory skeletons beginning to paint the actual story of half-mad indigent whose cuddly exterior hardly fit with the grim reality of his crime-riddled drug addicted past.
And so a few days later, we had Jared Loughner firing weapons into a crowd at a political event and the chimes of backlash began to ring in the direction of the harsh rhetoric of a recent Right Wing political movement, sometimes stupidly referred to as “a revolution” and painted with the broad brush of fist-pumping, gun-toting oratory. Ironically, much of the same people who were quick to target one ideology as a direct result of irreparable damage were then accused of inspiring another. So, maybe it is fitting they were forced to answer for it, but it doesn’t make it “what is,” only a flimsy helping of the bitter end of “what should be.”
James Campion is the Managing Editor of The Reality Check News & Information Desk and the author of Deep Tank Jersey, Fear No Art, Trailing Jesus and Midnight For Cinderella.