Even if Sarah Palin’s website didn’t cause Jared Loughner to go out and shoot Representative Gabrielle Gifford in this weekend’s horrific incident, few of us think Palin’s bulls-eye map was a very civilized way of making a political point.
But she has a right to do it.
As a writer, I lean towards freedom of speech and expression. I don’t know how many times in my lifetime I have seen movies, books, or rock and rap music blamed for every ill in society. Sarah Palin didn’t cause the killer to plan an assassination. I don’t respect her use of gun imagery for political gain, but she has legal right, much in the same way that I believe a cartoonist can draw a cartoon of Mohammed without fear of being murdered. It only becomes illegal when the person really cries fire — or calls for a jihad — or murder.
We are all vying for attention with our words and ideas, both in the old and new media. Sadly, most of us have become just like Sarah Palin. We use controversial metaphors in order to gain attention. It is what sells. It is what makes us watch and listen. No one hears you clearly if you debate in a reasoned manner. I thought this type of journalism might change with the election of the intellectual Obama, but, instead, he is called a wimp if he isn’t fighting like an angry dog.
But if we are going to honestly talk about violence in language and every day discourse, I say we also look at ourselves. We live in a violent and unstable society, and there is a legitmate need for many of us to express our anger — at our government, our families, and even ourselves. But are we getting too comfortable employing violent imagery in our writing to grab attention, much like Sarah Palin?
As a little experiment, I did Twitter searches on common phrases I read all the time online:
“I want to shoot someone.”
“I want to punch someone in the face.”
“I want to stab someone.”
And you’d be surprised at how many statements like this are made every MINUTE. More surprising are the positive responses these statements get in return, usually a lot of laughter and agreement. Clearly, we understand the context of the statements. We assume the nice college kid writing “I wants to shoot the guy in the supermarket for talking loudly on his cellphone” isn’t REALLY going to shoot him. The contrast of the statement and the reality is what makes the statement amusing.
We all enjoy writing “I want to punch that guy in the nose” every once in a while. I know I do. It is cathartic. But I’m afraid that violent-aggressive language has become more of the norm rather than the exception, especially online. I’m sure we don’t do it consciously. It is the trickle down effect of a society obsessed with violence. We find violence more “real” — and cooler — than sense and sensibility. Hey, we can talk like inner city rappers (even from our safe suburban homes!) I would hate to think that this type of writing becomes as common in our society as it is for unstable twenty year olds to walk around with Glock pistols in their pockets.