Tragedy in America is a three-act play.
We start with horror: A deranged and socially-exiled youth storms onto an elementary school campus with a Bushmaster .223 rifle and murders 20 children and six adults. The damage is swift, calculated and irreparable. In a matter of minutes, the shooter has committed one of the worst mass shootings in American history.
The fallout is ripe with intrigue. That’s Act Two. Along with the parents, police and paramedics swarming the scene are journalists, photographers and curious bystanders. In a matter of minutes the news is viral; you’d have to be blind, deaf and dumb or marooned on a rock in the South Pacific to avoid hearing the keywords “Newtown” or “Lanza.” The shooting plasters the evening news and fills the weekend headlines, and it doesn’t stop there.
For days the American public takes it upon itself to dissect the complex psychology of the shooter, memorize the names of all 26 victims and educate themselves on the terrors of post-traumatic stress. Newtown is a case to be studied and mastered. It is the axis on which most conversations hinge, the subject of mutual frowns and sighs, a catalyst for social chemistry. It is, for a few protracted weeks, the obsession of popular culture.
Then — unnoticed, unmentioned — it fades. Like any other trending topic or fashion, it slips quietly off the radar and is seldom discussed again. The talking points are worn; the questions have all been answered. After horror, after intrigue, the third and final act of the American tragedy is apathy.
We may not have reached the end of that final act yet, but consider this: It’s been a month since that morning of devastation in Newtown. Since then, the NRA has suggested posting armed guards in public schools, the Second Amendment battle has exploded in the Coliseum of cable television and the Obama administration has just this week clarified its intentions to tighten gun control. Surely, this news will make ripples in the public sphere. If there is anything more important than honoring the lives of the unjustly slain, it’s taking action to ensure that their deaths were not in vain.
But this news has been neither anticipated nor received with even a fraction of the original interest the massacre provoked.
This raises some difficult questions. If you were so concerned for the well-being of the victims and their families, then why aren’t you equally concerned now? If you were actually willing to take the time to scroll through tomes of online blogs, read over pages of human interest editorials and glue your eyes to the TV set for days on end, where’s that attentiveness now?
The answer is simple: The general public does not care to memorize firearms statistics because firearms statistics are boring. This was never a matter of empathy; it was, for the vast majority of Americans, a matter of fascination. A mass shooting at an elementary school and the consequential stories of heartbreak and survival make for excellent TV. The bureaucratic complexities of congressional discourse do not.
I wish I could offer a more uplifting take on the matter, but the patterns in this story spell stark sensationalism. We are a nation obsessed with violence, and we inundate ourselves with it nightly, from “Law & Order” to “NCIS” to “Bones” to all three versions of “CSI.” We watch bodies being loaded into the backs of ambulances with chips and popcorn in our laps. It’s no wonder that when it happens in real life, we respond the way we’ve been trained — as an audience.
That’s what makes the current void of apathy so frustrating. While the victims and families of the Newtown shooting still feel the unfathomable pain of loss, the rest of the world has changed the channel. Today’s reality is yesterday’s news, and the media outlets will filter their content accordingly.
It falls to all citizens with the ability to inform themselves to do so. It should not take a massacre a week to maintain the public’s interest in matters as pressing as the regulation of lethal weapons.
What happened to the hourly updates, the cries for reform, the raw and passionate outrage? This is the kind of attention and emotion the debate on gun control needs, but is not receiving, from a nation with one of the highest rates of gun ownership in the world.
Through the eyes of the public, the issue is merely a shadow of the consequence. And until we strike the problem at its core, the consequences will be increasingly severe.
Mark Strong is a second-year CCS literature major.
Views expressed on the Opinion page do not necessarily reflect those of the Daily Nexus or UCSB. Opinions are submitted primarily by students.