“Was not their mistake once more bred of the life of slavery that they had been living?—a life which was always looking upon everything, except mankind, animate and inanimate—‘nature,’ as people used to call it—as one thing, and mankind as another, it was natural to people thinking in this way, that they should try to make ‘nature’ their slave, since they thought ‘nature’ was something outside them” — William Morris

Friday, December 14, 2012

"Shots rang out"

When I arrived here in the US, in 1992, I was stunned by the dehumanized ambience of gun violence reporting: "Shots rang out." Never "Someone fired a gun." And never ever "Someone tried to kill someone else dead."

They have a lot of guns in Canada. What makes them different in the killing statistics, to cite Michael Moore? It's a truism to say we live in a culture of aggression. But part of that is that we are strangely and situationally drained of affect when it comes to thinking death and violence, or mediating it.

I am reminded of the "embedded reporter" in Iraq in 2003, whose basic function was to act as a virtual couch potato inside your telly, so you would be distanced from and desensitized to the state killing. (The total opposite of the promised reality teevee, or rather, its truth.) "I hear the sound of tracer fire around me," said against a dark background while filmed with an infra red camera to give it a dissociated ambience.

It's the casualness of the violence isn't it? And the violence of the casualness. I remember my Buddhist friend Alan satirizing the way some hip hop lyrics worked: "I'm gonna kill you...I'm gonna kill you..."--but it was the tone with which he said it, the relaxed drawl, and in particular the smile, that made it specially American.

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