5 Awful Public Reactions You See After Every Tragedy
It's difficult to react to national tragedies. No one can quite comprehend the shock and horror of a mass shooting, natural disasters are a constant reminder that the Earth itself could turn against us at any moment, and we may never truly recover from the complete upheaval we were thrown into when Silent Hills was canceled. We can't blame anyone for a stumbling, awkward reaction to such terrible events. But there are some responses that need to be avoided, because they're the national equivalent of getting an erection at a funeral.
So there's been a mass shooting. For comedic purposes, we'll say that 11 people were killed in a novelty dildo factory. Maybe it was a disgruntled dildo inspector, maybe it was a political statement about America's hedonism, or maybe an emasculated husband was furious that his wife's disembodied rubber Clydesdale phallus was satisfying her in ways he never could. Regardless, while we mourned, there would be a few people declaring that, had they been there, they would have grabbed a giant equine cock right off the assembly line and beat the attacker to death while implicitly getting an erection of their own.
And if that scenario is too outlandish for you, here are some very real people arguing that, had they been present during the Virginia Tech shooting, they would have singlehandedly saved the day before fucking the homecoming queen underneath the football bleachers:
Yeah, come on guys. At the very least, you can just count the shots as your friends are murdered around you.
Here are similar Monday Morning Rambos analyzing the Aurora and Isla Vista shootings:
Here are some people talking about shootings in general:
Stop cowering and make a random person on Facebook proud!
And here's Mark Wahlberg on how he could have stopped a 9/11 hijacking (whose victims had no idea their planes were going to be purposely crashed), and then beaten Osama bin Laden to death with his freedom boner.
Never forget that Marky Mark said this.
While these guys (and they're almost always guys) overlap with those who argue that mass open-carry would discourage and stop shooters, there's a key difference. Most people in favor of "The only thing that can stop a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun, at least until Batman is real" policy aren't hoping to find themselves in that situation. They just think that if they were unfortunate enough to be there, they or someone nearby could be both brave enough and lucky enough to react. Like this man responding to the Aurora shooting:
But if you look at enough examples of would-be heroes, you start to pick up on a weird sense of optimistic anger. They want to find themselves in the middle of a crisis, because they want to shoot someone in the head and be called a hero instead of a sociopath. Sometimes they're lone wolves saving the day while the masses cower, and other times they're rallying the huddled cowards to join them. But the implication is always the same: Had these noble commenters been present, the only tragedy that unfolded would have been their autograph wrist getting sore.
It's a weird combination of braggadocio and victim-blaming. If only those poor, panicked murder victims had taken 20 minutes to quietly think through the scenario from the comfort of their living rooms, then they could have easily stopped the shooting. It's not the shooter's fault for pulling the trigger; it's their fault for not being enough of a badass to fight back. No one comes out and says that, but it's the ugly implication behind every boast disguised as analysis.
Oh wait, some people do come out and say it. Hope you were sufficiently ashamed of your murdered children, mourning Virginia Tech parents.
It's okay to insult Colin Goddard and his father, though, because he only had to spend months in physical therapy recovering from four bullet wounds.
There's also the Psychiatrist -- people who claim that someone should have seen the perpetrator's action coming (and imply that, had they known them, they would have). They're a preemptive Hero; someone so insightful that they can stop tragedies before they occur.
Some psychiatrists are more profane than others.
Of course, personal tragedies are stopped everyday by people recognizing that a friend needs help. We'll never know how many national tragedies were prevented the same way. But that doesn't stop people from wanting retroactive, hypothetical credit for difficult work they thought other people should have done. It's like how I could have written The Hunger Games, so its fans should give me all their money.
The Outrage One-Upper
So there's been a mass shooting. For comedic purposes, we'll ... wait, shit, I already used this setup. Okay, let's just say there's been another one, because that's depressingly realistic. And after it's been established that the victims were cowardly losers, we need to look at how to handle the perpetrator.
Uh, okay. That's harsh, but an understandable reaction to the anger and horror that a mass shooting can invoke. Let's not judge--
Oh, well that seems a little over the top, but--
That wasn't a knee-jerk reaction; that was someone waiting for a moment like the Paris shootings so that such a suggestion would be socially acceptable. On a lighter note, you can sometimes swap a few words around and change these posts to "ideas rejected by my lover."
Anger is an understandable response to tragedy -- especially if it's a tragedy perpetrated by someone who had the option of staying home, eating ice cream, and watching Netflix instead of murdering their fellow humans. But tragedies enable a bizarre form of competitive anger in which some people feel the need to let everyone know that they are the most outraged, goddammit. They are going to win the Outrage Olympics and then take their anger out on the losers' faces.
Can you imagine someone typing that sentence? It's tempting to picture them like this:
But I'm willing to bet that they look pretty normal. Maybe even relaxed. Feet kicked up, some sitcom on in the background, maybe they're even flipping back and forth between their writing and porn, like many people do, or so I hear. Just working out their outrage while the babysitter and the pizza delivery guy try to fix the plumbing. It's cathartic, right?
But the more examples you look at, the more uncomfortable it gets. It doesn't even matter if the shooter wasn't brought in alive to face trial or fantasy punishment. We can just go kill some people who look like them.
Sometimes there's overlap with the Hero. They don't just want the suffering to continue -- they claim that they'd love to head out the door and take care of it personally. And it warps the lesson we should be taking away. The message stops being "Violence is bad because it hurts people," and becomes "Hurting people is awesome, as long as there's a consensus on whom to hurt."
If it's any consolation, there's probably not much to fear from someone who goes by Sw4gg-ninja713.
And maaaybe that's not the best message to send in a culture in which shooting people who disagree with your politics, won't sleep with you, or make fun of your dildo-crafting skills has become routine. After all, some people can form a compelling consensus between themselves and the shrieking harpies that replaced empathy in their brains.
Do you have any friends who, when you tell them about a problem, propose solutions that so blatantly miss the point of your dilemma that you just get annoyed with them for forcing you to waste time pointing out why they're dumb? I definitely don't, friends who are reading this, but I've witnessed it in your other friends who are objectively inferior to me. For example, if someone says that their boss at the dildo factory is giving them a hard time by making them work longer hours, someone always proposes telling the boss to shove it up his own ass. That's fine to fantasize about, but ignores the fact that the boss is the dominant in this relationship and could easily make life even harder, if not just find a replacement employee who's more submissive.
Scale this up to the national level, and you find people proposing solutions that would be adorable coming from a child, but just makes them look like they have no idea how the world works.
Whether it's another shooting ...
Nothing stops shooting like a good war.
"That's right, instantly. You're welcome, America."
... a disease outbreak like Ebola ...
... or a natural disaster in a developing country ...
"We'll call it ice-nine! It will solve everything!"
... these people always mean well, but overlook obvious flaws. It's completely understandable -- tragedies are scary, and thinking there's an easy solution brings order and logic to an unpredictable wilderness (they're the Star Fleet of problem solvers, basically). But it's accidentally insulting. If the solution was so obvious, wouldn't someone have, you know, already tried it?
With all due respect to the aunt who thinks the world "just needs a little more love," there are people who do nothing but try to find solutions to these problems, and it's unlikely we'll stumble across a radical fix in between telling our friends that yes, their babies are just as adorable as the last 80 times their pictures were posted. That absolutely doesn't mean we shouldn't discuss these issues, but maybe don't make posts like this ...
There should be a law or something.
... which carry a smug superiority more appropriate for a teenager explaining to their little sibling how sex works than for adults discussing some of the most troubling issues of our age. Because then you just get to complain that the world didn't implement your cartoonishly impractical idea instead of helping with a practical solution. It's the national tragedy equivalent of refusing to pitch in for the pizza because no one wanted your stupid pineapple on it.
So there's been a mass ... flamethrowering. You know, to mix things up. Or maybe there's been an outbreak of Ebola, SARS, or Butt Plague. Whatever it is, if people died, you can bet your plague-ridden butts that someone will blame it on something like "America's moral decay." Which is code for gay people getting married and/or straight people spending Sundays getting drunk in their backyards instead of praying.
And of course, it wouldn't be a shooting without someone blaming it on video games ...
... or the government ...
... or religion ...
... or politics ...
... or, uh, women?
Or they'll just want to talk about a completely unrelated tragedy, ostensibly to draw attention to it, but really because they want to show everyone that they were sad about life before it was cool.
You've probably seen Agenda-Seizers so many times that they've become tragedy background noise. They're like the Problem-Solver's deadbeat cousin, as their proposed "easy solution" is obviously just pushing a pet cause that has nothing to do with the issue at hand. At least the Problem-Solver means well. These guys are the equivalent of someone who proposes doing cocaine at every party, even though it's obvious that no one is interested. And sometimes they take strange forms. Like the Naturalist, who thinks any health crisis can be traced back to the fact that we're not eating enough organic cruelty-free kale:
Or the America Hater, who crosses the line from legitimately critiquing government policy or social mores relevant to the tragedy to just whining about how much their country sucks. Usually it has something like "This would have never happened in " thrown in.
It's great that Palau's solved racism, guy who went abroad for a semester in college and uses that as an excuse to describe himself as "worldly" on his dating profile. But unless you want to pay every African-American who gets harassed by the police to start a new life there, that's not really relevant to the problem we're trying to solve.
That's like telling your friend, "My house has a leaky roof" and having them respond, "My roof leaked too, but now my friend is letting me stay at his place rent-free until my all-furry rap group, Ear Flop Hip Hop, makes it big." You're just ignoring the problem to brag about the superiority of your position.
There's also the Nihilist, who pops up to mention that we all have to go sooner or later, and so we shouldn't get upset that people died -- presumably while taking a break from writing poetry and listening to Bright Eyes. For extra obnoxiousness, they'll often accuse mourners of not being genuine in their mourning:
Sure, we'll never know the victims of a tragedy miles away the way their loved ones did. And you always get the sneaking suspicion that someone you know is trying to be the tragedy equivalent of the Outrage One-Upper, wanting to prove that they're the most distraught and caring. But with all that in mind, shut your stupid word hole. No one wants to hear that shit, and that's coming from someone whose default emotion is "existential dread." It's not a traditional agenda, but they're absolutely still trying to win you over to their way of thinking, which is "Human life is fundamentally meaningless." You're welcome to that opinion, but if you feel the need to bust it out while people are mourning, we need to subject you to a goddamn Voight-Kampff Test.
The "Let's Not Politicize This" People
The exception to the Agenda-Seizer, as those of you taking notes should know, is the person who wants to talk about a relevant issue. If the government response to a natural disaster is mismanaged, it's perfectly reasonable to sensitively discuss the government's approach to disaster relief. If clashes between management and labor at a dildo factory leave some people dead and others with trouble walking, labor relations in the sex toy industry is a reasonable topic to broach, and maybe even push on a little if there's some resistance. Or, to pick another completely random example, if there's a mass shooting, then it's actually pretty goddamn reasonable to talk about guns.
"Let's not politicize this!" is almost always code for "The reaction to this tragedy is fundamentally challenging to my worldview, and I'm not comfortable with that." But if you can convince enough people that it's impossible to discuss the matter with sensitivity, then you can bury it until it's no longer topical. Then you just rinse and repeat until a solution that doesn't make you question your values somehow presents itself, or until we all become bulletproof cyborgs. You know, whichever comes first.
It's like your doctor telling you that you'll die of liver failure in a few months if you don't cut back on your drinking, and then, when asking you just how much you drink, a stranger butts in and yells, "Whoa, doc! I don't like you taking advantage of the state of this person's liver to push your 'Drink less' agenda! Why don't you wait six months, when this is a less sensitive subject for me, and then we can talk about it? You know, maybe. If I feel like it."
I'm sure there's already someone rushing to the comments to call that analogy baseless because of its obvious flaw -- no one calls a doctor "doc" anymore. But that's kind of the point. There's always a knee-jerk reaction to completely shut down the conversation instead of having it and rationally and politely arguing why the other side is wrong.
Shootings bring out this response the most by far, whether it's a mass shooting or questionable police violence. And there is a fine line, because as we just covered, there are bad ways to react to shootings. But if you notice someone playing the "Let's not politicize this" card whenever a tragedy doesn't fit their worldview ...
... but is then all too happy to get political when a tragedy that does fit their worldview occurs ...
... then they don't actually give a shit about the victims. And regardless of your own opinions, you don't have to express them with the same disingenuousness that's far more insulting to the victims than any supposed "insensitive conversation" could ever possibly be.
Anyway, with all of that in mind, let's hope a national tragedy occurs soon so that we can apply these lessons while they're still fresh.
Mark has a Twitter, a story collection, and got Internet Comment Section Poisoning while researching this column.