10.28.2009

Is Life More Dangerous in 2009?

Forgive me if this post seems a little heavy for the season. The Orange Park Police Department held a news conference yesterday outlining the profile of the suspected murderer of seven-year-old Somer Thompson.

It's a nasty word, "profile." It's one of those paranoid, suspicious terms that divide communities and diminish our shared humanity. Still, it's one of those terms that we see more frequently. In political terms, it haunts the stereotypes of Republicans and Democrats, often becoming a barrier to any meaningful discussion about the actual issues. The word "profile" has a special connotation in communities like Portland, Oregon, Cincinnati, Ohio, and Jacksonville, Florida, where accusations of racial profiling have been levied against local law enforcement agencies. And, in the instance of Somer's murder, it's used as a tool to potentially identify an individual who has created an atmosphere of outrage and fear in a close-knit Florida community.

Mark Woods is a good writer. I like his outlook on life, and I admire his willingness to ask some good questions. Take a look at this article. The crux of his piece is an investigation into whether times have changed (in this case, taking a turn for the worse), or if the proliferation of information (amber alerts, blogs like the one you're reading, 24-hour cable news) has magnified the impression that we live in a dangerous world.

Woods's final summation is that the crimes haven't changed, but the technology used to discuss and investigate them have changed our perceptions of them.

I agree with him.

Michael Moore, lightning rod that he is, used the notion that our information-dissemination systems are trying to titillate and shock us in the interest of creating ad revenue as the thesis to his documentary Bowling for Columbine (2002). Portland television critic Pete Schulberg called it "fearful world syndrome" back in the early portion of this decade, and there are scads of articles in the academic world on what sociologists are calling "mean world syndrome."

I think depravity--true and shocking depravity, like the type we're seeing play out in Orange Park right now--is as original and enduring as our species' kinder impulses, such as compassion and community building.

Thankfully, there's far more of the latter than there is of the former.

I think the knee-jerk reaction is always to wax nostalgic when we compare generations and eras. Our personal biases color our views but, in my view, life is cyclical. Culture was outraged when Elvis Presley swiveled his hips on the Ed Sullivan Show. It was outraged in the '80s when Madonna made music videos that flaunted her sexuality. Culture grimaced when Janet Jackson had a wardrobe malfunction in the Super Bowl.

No doubt, it will become outraged again soon. That said, the more things change, the more they stay the same.

To bring this whole post full circle and put it, if ever so tangentially, into a writing context, I'll say that, while I thought King and Straub's novel Black House was decent, I can't write about violence against children. Just can't do it. It's a horror staple and a well-worn trope, but I've said before that part of my writing garden just doesn't bear fruit.

The birth of my daughter has changed my perceptions of such topics more drastically than I could have ever predicted. It's not that I can't look at films or read stories that feature such subjects, and I'm not a full fledged Disneybot or anything like that, but I will say that my impressions of such artistic works is far more critical and much less forgiving.

Sorry for the rambling post here, but I wanted to jot a few thoughts in here on the topic. It's an interesting question, I think. Is life more dangerous in 2009 than in previous eras?

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