Monday, March 10, 2014

Rerun-appreciation as warning sign

In the grand tradition of "Hitler was a vegetarian," we now have another heap of disparate data points about Connecticut killer Adam Lanza. While to his credit, Andrew Solomon doesn't explicitly invite us to look at each new detail as the key, and makes clear (to those who read the whole thing) that Aspergers (where many of the more symptom-y details seemed to point) might be a red herring, it's hard not to read such pieces this way. And what do we learn? "He loved reruns of 'The Bob Newhart Show' [...]," for example. An appreciation for old sitcoms is now a warning sign? Great. So, too, is writing fiction that depicts something that would be unsavory in real life. Oh well. And remember, we've already established that a dislike of hair-salon chit-chat is a something to keep an eye on.

The essential in Solomon's piece comes far too near the end, i.e. that part of long-form articles almost nobody gets to:

Adam Lanza was a terrorist for an unknowable cause who committed three distinct atrocities: he killed his mother; he killed himself; he killed children and adults he’d never met before. Two of these acts are explicable; the third, incomprehensible. There are many crimes from which most people desist because we know right from wrong and are careful of the law. Most people would like to have things that belong to others; many people have felt murderous rage. But the reason that almost no one shoots twenty random children isn’t self-restraint; it’s that there is no level at which the idea is attractive.
Precisely. Randomly killing children is incomprehensible and impossible to relate to the rest. We have a pile of biographical information, all of which we're unavoidably reading through the lens of knowing what this man went on to do. That changes how we interpret the spectrum-type details, but also the mundane ones provided to show him as, in his father's words, "'a normal little weird kid.'" Even the "Bob Newhart" reruns - and could a show be any less violent or controversial? - read as suspect.

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