Sunday, January 9, 2011

Bizarroland Interlude: Normaler and Normaler

8 January 2011, ca. 12:45pm

Four people confirmed dead. On the other side of town, the phone keeps ringing, my mother’s ear glued to the receiver. Meanwhile, the wife and I sit in front of the television with our MacBooks. Equipped with layers of audiovisual devices, we try to make sense out of non-sense.
I keep thinking about Dad, about what his reaction would have been. I can hear his apocalyptic declarations.
“It’s like we live in Israel now. This kind of shit happens in the Middle East.”
“This country is completely fucked up.”
“This state is a political disaster.”
“There’s gonna be a riot in this city.”
“This is what you get in a gun-crazy state.”
And he’s right. I’m so convinced that I know him well enough to imagine his reaction that I feel like it is him speaking through me. And I suppose I’m glad for him that he isn’t around to witness this, because I know it would disappoint him. Upset him. Possibly break his heart.
            The paranoia abounds now. The theories pile up. Mom, Beth and I bounce bits of information off each other – Jesse Kelly’s M-16 rally of this past fall, Palin’s “Take Back the 20” campaign that held Giffords in the crosshairs. The paranoia. Assurances to family and friends that we will stay inside today. Half-hearted thoughts of attending a peace rally, a pacifist vigil of some sort – these impulses checked by doubt, by a self-preservation instinct that wells up like a bilious lump of stomach putty.
            The press gives conflicting reports. Giffords has been assassinated. Giffords remains alive and in surgery at Tucson Medical Center. More paranoia at the Tucson homestead: perhaps the media is covering up her death. Perhaps at this very moment, Giffords lies dead among the others killed, while the news gives placating reports of her continued existence in surgery, while the Tucson PD, the Pima County Sheriff’s Department, the FBI, the CIA, the Secret Service, the National Guard prepare for bedlam.

ca. 7:20pm

            Now Tucson is in the throes of a paranoia attack. The TPD is investigating a “suspicious package” near Giffords’ headquarters. A vigil for Giffords was being held near her office. The bomb squad is apparently “rendering the package inert,” KOLD news tells us. A reporter talks about hearing explosions and smelling acrid odors of bomb chemicals. I wonder if the city has itself exploded into mass fear – a latter-day version of the classic Twilight Zone episode “The Monsters Are Due on Maple Street.” What will the coming days bring in Tucson? In Arizona? In the United States? Will the histrionics and suspicion of the days following the 9/11 attacks return full force? Will we have another wave of what Art Spiegelman termed the “new normal”? Is now the time for the dawn of a Newer Normal in the Southwest?
            When traumatic events go public, when they become part of mass consciousness, infinitely mediatized until people begin to absorb them and incorporate them into a new normality, do we become more normal? Is each “new” normal also an increase in normalcy? In a sick inversion of supposed logic, is it the case that the more we see, the more jaded we become, the more normal we become?
            “Every day and in every way, we are getting normaler and normaler.” Maybe this is what all the news coverage is secretly telling us. As a growing chorus of voices chants that “We are horrified by these tragic events” and that “Our thoughts and prayers are with the victims and their families,” I begin to wonder if they are trying to convince not only us watching out there, but if they are trying to convince themselves, if in convincing us they might then reabsorb the normalcy themselves. Or maybe the mantra should go another way: “Every hour and in every way, we are seeing how demented Jared Loughner is and we are getting normaler and normaler.”
9 January 2011, ca. 10:50am

And what will become of Jared Loughner in the near future? Besides whatever judicial punishment may or may not lie ahead, will he become a new cultural scapegoat? I watch an expert on CNN emphasize that Loughner is not a “lone gunman,” that he is a visible iteration of a systemic cultural disease (though the expert didn’t quite use those words), but I wonder what other contortions the US media will put the cultural figure of Loughner through…

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