Fear and Loathing in the Age of Very Bad Things

The Islam thing. The gay thing. The guns thing. And, always always, the Trump thing.

So much converges in the Orlando massacre that to contemplate its multiplicity of meanings and reverberations feels like walking into a labyrinth. One is tempted to look aside, chalk it up to the same level of horror as the toddler killed by an alligator in the Disney dystopia, and mutter a phrase from my early adolescence, when I first heard of something called Existentialism: men die and are not happy.

But, foolishly I'm sure, I'll dip my toe in the dragon-infested waters -- first sign of writerly disorentation, mixing my metaphors.

Islam. It is disingenuous to argue that what's Islam got to do with it. No matter the stats on peaceful Muslims or good American Muslims, who can argue with the bold message of terrorism, from 9/11 to Orlando? No matter either the cruel history of Christianity: the Crusades (alive and well in Islamist memory), the religious wars, the Christian face of imperialism, and my own Spanish heritage -- the Inquisition. Quite simply, that was then, Isalmist violence is now. And then there are the other stats, the ones about official terror in countries ruled by Islamists or even our Muslim allies. Besides, even in educated Western democracies the citizenry is not composed of subtle theologians. Not that long ago, and without bloody provocation, they turned on the Jews.

LGBT. I am heartened by the aggregation of initials. It does make for a mouthful, but that may be a good thing. It points in the right direction: everybody. Je suis LGBT. C'est a dire, I am everybody, regardless of how I express my sexuality. But that's the wishful thinking of someone whose worldview was shaped by stoned soul picnics. Truth is the more folk come out, the more those who abhor them feel a need to obliterate them. Homophobia is deep seated. Its irrationality is irrelevant. As is its call to arms. 

Which brings us to the guns thing. Let's admit it. Guns are sexy. Like cars. Yes, yes, responsible gun use. I live in a rural area where everyone has guns. For hunting, next to fishing a popular pastime. And for security. Folk here don't have home alarms; they have guns. All of that makes sense. But what I can't reconcile is this sensible use of weaponry and the gun-crazy violence on the screen, a violence that I confess I consume. In my childhood, cowboy movies were white hats vs black hats. The violence was about justice. Then it got complicated. Gary Cooper shot the bad guys but when he was done he thew his badge on the ground in disgust and rode off with his Quaker wife. Shane was good, but he doesn't come back. And it all got more tangled up from there. And much more violent.

I've fired a rifle no more than a handful of times. At a target I'm happy to say I didn't miss completely. But boy have I seen gun-crazy movies. Sometimes I think that pleasure is a sin. In my mind, like Jimmy Carter's adulteries. I shot the sheriff. Like religion, like sexual identity, gun violence responds to deep impulses. It responds at a speed that surpasses all thought. It responds at the level of the subconscious. Whatever the Fathers were thinking with the 2nd Ammendment, they were not thinking beyond single-shot weapons.

Trump. He dominates the discourse so totally that there's talk of self-limiting the 1st Ammendment and stop taking his name in vain. Because when you say Trump you say media in our age. The wonderful Wolfsonian Museum in Miami Beach devotes itself to design and propaganda. That hits the right note. Fascism and Communism, which Susan Sontag told us was Fascism with a human face, paid close attention to imagery, to media. Rule by design. And clever power seekers have paid close attention since. So what if the Donald's hairdo is silly? It's unmistakeable. As was Hitler's little moustache and Stalin's florid one. No other American politico is a brand. Obama is to some extent by virtue of being black, and by being graceful, which is associated with black entertainment and athleticism. But there's no one like Trump, who was a commercial and entertainment brand before he entered politics. Ridiculous? As with so many rational thing I've mentioned, no matter. Branding trumps (no pun intended) dignity, a now forgotten virtue.

So he instantly seizes on the Orlando massacre to score political points. This was offensive to many, but I wonder how many. Religion that inspires murderous fervor. Sexual identity that provokes murderous rage. Weaponry that discharges carnage, blurring the line between fiction and life: jouissance is all, say I, shabby disciple of Roland Barthes. Imagery that consumes and assumes all aspects of constitutional democracy.

It's not getting better all the time.