It has been challenging for me not to dive head-first into the childishness that has erupted on the Internet in the days following the school shooting in Newtown, Connecticut. Here’s what I’ve seen, so far: first, Facebook and Twitter users ridiculously criticized each other for not mourning enough, then a fraudulent statement from Morgan Freeman about the media circulated, the Westboro Baptist Church tried to steal the spotlight and (deservedly) drew retaliation from the hacker group Anonymous, and, finally, a frightful number of folks found it appropriate to criticize NBC for interrupting Sunday Night Football (and FOX for cutting into Bob’s Burgers) to broadcast President Obama’s speech at last night’s community vigil in Newtown.
Predictably, I’ll point out how we’ve clearly ‘lost sight of what is really important’ – i.e., how disappointing it is that so many people seem to have ignored the gravity of Friday’s massacre to get a word in and satisfy their egos. Yet, all this chatter is really quite fascinating. The vibrant, although not always pleasing, din of commentary surrounding this tragedy illustrates the immense complexity of the situation it has precipitated.
Most simply, we are in a time of national mourning – and, we participate in that not because it is compulsory, but because it is ineluctable. However, as I wrote about on Saturday, our individual expressions of grief are different and, given our nation’s diversity, those expressions are incredibly variegated. Alongside our collective sadness lies the stream of issues that arise from this kind of attack and the fact that they unavoidably evoke passionate articulations of support and opposition. Calm, reserved grieving fits as appropriately into this conversation as wild, incensed confusion, so, aside from behavior that violates the extreme boundaries of civility, it is impossible, and meaningless, to say what is ‘right’ and what is ‘wrong’.
With that said, of all the responses to Friday’s events that I’ve seen, I think the President’s address last night is most worth imitation. He was serious but not humorless, sympathetic but did not marginalize the incomprehensibility of those families’ losses, he was political but not aggressively or disrespectfully so. He is the most powerful man in the world and read every victim’s name giving time for their memory (or our imagine memory) to resonate in our hearts. In short, he acted reasonably and honorably in the face of charged and mixed emotions, something which I wish were more commonplace.