Friday, April 20, 2007

Michael Benton: Here There Be Monsters

(I wrote this in response to earlier school shootings in my hometown.)

"Here There Be Monsters: A Response to the Public Outcry Surrounding the San Diego High School Shootings"
by Michael Benton
formerly known as l'bourgeoizine (Spring 2001)

There exists in a certain form of moral condemnation an escapist denial. One says, basically, this abjection would not have been, had there not been monsters. . . . And it is possible, insofar as this language appeals to the masses, that this infantile negation may seem effective; but in the end it changes nothing. It would be as vain to deny the incessant danger of cruelty as it would be to deny the danger of physical pain. One hardly obviates its effects flatly attributing it to parties or to races which one imagines to be human. (Bataille, Georges. "Reflection of the Executioner and the Victim." Yale French Studies. 79: 19.)


For the mainstream what is disturbing about the rash of school shootings is that they are taking place in the peaceful communities designed to defend against the (perceived) extreme violence and despair of the inner urban schools/communities. Reminds me of an old movie from the 70s called "Over the Edge" (1979, directed Jonathan Kaplan) based on a real-life events in which youths from a planned suburban community rage against the superficialities of their planned community.

Both of the San Diego shootings were in the east county. The first one was at Santana high school located in a planned community—featuring banal, safe, and structured lives. These communities are so bland that one journalist echoed James Kunstler in describing the Santee community as the “geography of nowhere”. Because of the insular and controlled nature of these communities the lives of the families—children and adult—are situated around the high school. One’s social standing in the high school cliques is everything in the lives of the students.

Think about the pain and discomfort suffered by those perceived as deviant. If you are deemed weird in these cowboy communities then you are fucked because you become a social pariah, if you're lucky, and if you are unlucky, you become the target of persecution, especially if you decide to struggle against your status. As an urban delinquent during my high school years we were supplied with the opportunities of heterotopic spaces in which we could construct new communities of hope. These contemporary kids are raised by the false dreams of the media and lack true avenues of difference in order to explore alternatives to the mainstream fantasies. In this situation the violent solutions of simplistic and stereotypical entertainments may prove a strong lure for fragmented identities, but this is not the ‘true’ cause of teen shootings. Those who point towards movies, music, and video games as the corrupters of our children are fearfully avoiding their own responsibility in this violent mess. Once again returning to the movie “Over the Edge” we see how ‘planned communities’ are designed to take full advantage of the ‘technologies of control’ and to maximize a panoptic system of coercion. What are the lessons that we teach our children?

With the Atlantic Monthly’s recent revelations of how the Unabomber's mindset could have been created by the serious institutionalized mind-fuck he received from experimenting psychiatrists at Harvard, we are reminded that these desperate teen pariahs only possibility of help/advice/succor probably comes from the skewed philosophies of institutional authorities ... the psychiatrist, the principle, the probation officer, the cop ... who most likely view the teen as a 'loser' who just needs an attitude adjustment. Then there is the evergrowing cornucopia of medications prescribed to help Susie forget what it is that hurts her or makes sure that Johnny will sit still in the wooden torture device. But still the dis-ease grows and the violent teens erupt from the banality of their communities armed with the weapons of their distant parents. Then why are we so shocked when the shootings start--what shocks me is that more of these little bastards aren't shooting. Sadly, their targets, their peers, are just as much victims of the society that the shooters are attempting to shock. Perhaps Walter Dean Burnham's quote on page 226 of Greil Marcus’ Lipstick Traces (1990) -“The great American substitute for social revolution is murder.”-- should become known as the postscript to the American 20th century.

So what is to be done? Am I the only one who is nervous about how controlling powers use these acts of violence (teen shootings are just one viral strain) to further restrict our rights?

Situating critique is at the heart of what we do and is a necessity of a democratic reality. Our development as critical citizens involves ever widening circles of awareness, so we need to develop a resistance based on awareness of what is directly "given" knowledge and what is withheld. Recognize and struggle against this system of institutional experts. Why can only legitimized experts express opinions on social problems, or, in other words, why are their views the only ones disseminated through the mainstream media. The usage of "we" and "us" by media, critics, etc... is wrong and misleading. In the United States (much less the world) there is no clear "us" or "we". Instead all critiques/reporting need to move to explicit explanations of the forces/power structures (e.g. corporations, special interest groups, political parties, economic realities, etc...) that are initiating actions/ideologies/events.

Also we need to cultivate powerful artistic expressions of the monstrous. As Adam Jones communicates every time he hands me his latest “rip literature”, we need works that are not designed to make bundles of money, we need works that resist the processes of the market. So we must understand that our psyche/identity/individuality is a site that is still under construction. We’ve survived many "violent oscillations" and must now regain a sense of the "circle" of life. We must begin to seek out the patterns of meaning, watching them take shape before our eyes and in our mind. This is where we must go, on a journey of cognitive mapping, but it cannot just be a mapping of your own individual patterns but also a mission of understanding of larger forces at play and how they affect us all. I propose that we adopt the concept of the “whipstitch” as the metaphoric monstrosity of works that resist the logic of the market:

“The monster is that uncertain cultural body in which is condensed an intriguing simultaneity or doubleness: like the ghost of Hamlet, it introjects the disturbing, repressed, but formative traumas or "pre-" into the sensory moment of "post-," binding the one irrevocably to the other. The monster commands, "Remember me": restore my fragmented body, piece me back together, allow the past its eternal return. The monster haunts; it does not simply bring past and present together, but destroys the boundary that demanded their twinned foreclosure. (Cohen, Jeffrey Jerome. "Preface: In a Time of Monsters." Monster Theory: Reading Culture, 1996:ix-x)”


It is through a contemporary construction of fictive realms that have descended from Mary Shelley’s shunned creature that we may finally grasp an understanding of what is creating a society of “whipstitches” who scream wordlessly at the pain they cannot articulate. Hopefully, like Rikki Ducornet, we will all become “infected with the venom of language” and open up “spaces which evoke a sensation of strangeness, one that stimulates the eye, the imagining mind, and the body all at once” (“Walking to Eden” The Monstrous and the Marvelous, 1999). We are in the midst of revolutionary times—technology and science are metamorphosing before our eyes—but we also face the dangers of increasing restrictions on our personal privacy and freedom of expression. We must all decide if we are going to retreat from a world of wonders, or, whether we will reach towards Edgar Allan Poe’s “infinity of mental excitement” (“Murders in the Rue Morgue”)

1 comment:

Colleen said...

It has always seemed to me that, far from having too little personal freedom, it's lack of culture and clear ways of living that leave people in the position to absorb corporate culture. People use their freedom to do things like shop, write blog posts, and, occasionally, go on shooting rampages.

I'd posit (while knowing full well it's rather unlikely) that what would be best for humanity is not more freedom of personal choice, really, but a revamped infrastructure that allows for local cultures (which, yes, we do need freedom to create), which makes connectedness easier.

There have been social outcasts in all cultures at all times; I think there always will be mentally sick people. This said, I agree that the globalized world allows sick people to go to extremes of hate and violence that would not have been possible in ages past.IT simultaneously disempowers those who would have prevented or met this sort of antisocial behavior before 30+ people are killed.

Our mega-scale industrial society, is of course, deeply flawed. But I question, and am interested in answers to, how we could keep all (or even some) of the advances of the last 200 years (medicine, transportation, communication) while providing a less alienating society more "natural" to the human animal.