Tuesday, January 17, 2006

The Young American Evil

These boys in Florida who think it’s a fine sport to go out and
beat homeless men
with baseball bats strike me as American
to the core. Or perhaps that’s too harsh. Perhaps I should
sugar-coat it some. Perhaps I should say that these violent
and cruel children show more clearly than most the marks
of our contemporary malaise. I know, I know: it is always
a dicey business trying to make a horrible crime mean some-
thing, but indulge me here. I can only handle such viciousness
when it’s wrapped up in metaphor and context.

Let’s be honest about our culture, though. We hear a lot about
our strength and power, but this is all a sham. Our guns and
our bombs and our bizarre recklessness give us no more auth-
ority than a baseball bat lends an eighteen year old. While
we were busy with our small lives, we let the glory of
our nation grow hollow, become a boast that no one believes
anymore. What we’re left with is strength but no spirit, power
but no purpose, all the arms in the world but no heart to speak
of. In this void, bad ideologies will find their way into our char-
acter. With nothing but terror, ignorance and rage to hold onto,
the worst mistakes of the past can start to feel like good ideas.
We have a long way left to fall, true, but we’ve proven our-
selves so willing to jump.

Maybe this disgrace shows up earlier in idiot adolescents.
I see them gleefully battering people weaker than them and
I imagine that fear underpins their atrocities. They’re insig-
nificant and hopeless, you see, their childhood is about to end
all they can expect from life is to be slowly chewed up by it.
For the first time in their blind and shitty lives, they’ve got-
ten a glimpse of what nothings they are and they’ve chosen
to deal with it in an awful way. They see a homeless guy
sleeping on a bench and they see a victim a hundred times
more obvious than themselves. They’ll hit him, kick him,
and kill him thinking that maybe, just maybe, this can kill
their own emptiness, their own degradation. But they’re
too dumb to realize that the emptiness always wins, the
degradation only grows. They were probably proud of
what they did. They probably thought they had a right to.

But I would like to be as clear as possible here. I’m not say-
ing that these ugly jackass kids smashing the skulls of home-
less people are just like big bully America abusing the rest
of the world. I don’t believe that and I don’t care for glib
comparisons. What I am saying is that their depredations
may have more resonance than some of us might like to
think. These boys aren’t the only ones who loathe and
demonize the very poor, after all, they’re not the only
ones who act as though violence is righteous. I can hear
the echo of these boys’ terrified bloodlust whenever I find
some pundit who feels his opponents should be hung, when-
ever I read about the “patriots” who love their country by
hating everyone not like them, whenever some fool I work
with complains about driving through a black neighborhood
because “you never know what those people will do”.

America saw Jacques Pierre getting assaulted on television
and, predictably enough, America was outraged. However,
it might be time that America gave up the outrage and in-
stead tried to become better. It’s up to us what these cruel
teenagers will be: they can be simply jackals among us or
they can be the mascots for the worst years of a great nation.