One evening last September, my wife and I turned on our DVR to watch the Mr. Robot season finale we’d recorded a month earlier. But instead of the show – whose hero is a brilliant but delusional hacker, adrift in an insane world that that the aptly named Evil Corp controls – the recording offered a brief announcement from the USA Network. It informed us that the episode was postponed because it “contains a graphic scene similar in nature to today’s tragic events in Virginia.”
We somehow knew those events were some sort of shooting, but puzzled over which such shooting had taken place back in August. “Yeah, I think I remember something about a Virginia attack. Was it that neo-Nazi’s massacre at that church?” “No, I think that was in South Carolina, right?”
My wife and I are not alone in forgetting which loon slaughtered which victims where. How can you not lose track? Yes, places like Columbine are etched into our national consciousness and consciences. But so many such tragedies blend together in our memories. And the blend is a trend: A Harvard analysis found that mass shootings have nearly tripled in recent years.
And that’s just one slice of the grisly pie. The on-air killing of two Richmond, Virginia television journalists, which led the USA Network to postpone the Mr. Robot episode, would not even count as a mass shooting. Why not? Not enough deaths. (The Harvard analysis required four.)
All of this came back to mind when I saw President Obama tear up talking about gun deaths on Tuesday and lead a town hall discussion of the matter last night. Good for him for doing what he can and for keeping the issue alive even as so many die.
But despite Obama’s best efforts, we’ve become robots when it comes to gun violence, left to mechanically make our way through an insane political landscape. Yes, most of us are appalled, horrified, infuriated, depressed, pick-your-descriptive. But we’ve also become desensitized, as one episode streams into another. The President bewails the carnage. The National Rifle Association spouts some variation on the refrain that “guns don’t kill people, people kill people.” And this gushing wound in our body politic keeps spurting blood.
But to end on a lighter note…the best words I’ve heard on the issue come not from the President but from a foreign comedian, in a scathing, laugh-to-keep-from-crying, we-really-can-learn-something-from-other countries sort of way. (Warning: One of the words is one I’d never use, but I suppose in Australia it’s considered ok.) Check it out: