Chris Rock, the comedian, has a vivid way of describing anti-Semitism as a society's reaction to what ails it: “That train's never late.”
Too true. Scapegoating, originating in the Biblical Jewish rite for the expiation of sin, has been for millennia turned against the people who ritualized it. No livestock required. In pogrom after pogrom, the role of the goat was played by actual Jews. Because when things go wrong, someone must be blamed -- and we blame what and whom we most fear and mistrust, and we fear and mistrust what we least understand.
Bigotry and ignorance. Those trains never stop running. Whenever a society is confronted with evil, or just plain tragedy, the handwringing begins in earnest. There must be a deeper, more sinister, more pernicious explanation. When a deranged kid, armed to the teeth, murders two classrooms full of children, it can’t simply be about Americans’ near universal access to unlimited quantities of firearms and ammunition. Something else must be making lunatics kill.
The Jews? Tempting, tempting. But, no -- it must be a force even more ubiquitous and immoral and malign.
The media! But of course. Here is Wayne LaPierre of the National Rifle Association, illuminating the real culprits in Sandy Hook and 2012's other mass shootings in Colorado, Pennsylvania, Georgia, Wisconsin, Florida, California, Oklahoma, Washington, Delaware, Texas and Oregon:
And here's another dirty little truth that the media try their best to conceal: There exists in this country a callous, corrupt and corrupting shadow industry that sells, and sows, violence against its own people.
Through vicious, violent video games with names like Bulletstorm, Grand Theft Auto, Mortal Kombat and Splatterhouse. And here's one: it's called Kindergarten Killers. It's been online for 10 years. How come my research department could find it and all of yours either couldn't or didn't want anyone to know you had found it?
Then there's the blood-soaked slasher films like "American Psycho" and "Natural Born Killers" that are aired like propaganda loops on "Splatterdays" and every day, and a thousand music videos that portray life as a joke and murder as a way of life. And then they have the nerve to call it "entertainment."
But is that what it really is? Isn't fantasizing about killing people as a way to get your kicks really the filthiest form of pornography?
In a race to the bottom, media conglomerates compete with one another to shock, violate and offend every standard of civilized society by bringing an ever-more-toxic mix of reckless behavior and criminal cruelty into our homes — every minute of every day of every month of every year.
Get it? Day after day, like telepathic signals from Son of Sam's dog, the media are urging all of us to kill.
(Come to think of it, on the subject of unspoken messages, between the words “the” and “media,” can you hear LaPierre's dog-whistling “Jew-controlled?” Maybe that's just my imagination, or perhaps it's the sound of the train, at some distance, heading for the station.)
Anyway, the NRA observes correctly: the media are awash in gratuitous violence -- just as they were in the 1930s, 1940s, 1950s and 1960s. Countless dime novels, broadcasts, comic books and movies about cowboys, gangsters, cops, private eyes and soldiers titillated audiences with gunplay and body counts -- resulting somehow in vanishingly few actual mass shootings of actual flesh-and-blood Americans in schools, workplaces, shopping malls and theaters. And why? Because Jimmy Cagney was less murderous than Jason Statham?
No. Because guns were harder to come by.
Despite hundreds of peer-reviewed studies on the relationship between media violence and actual violence, no researcher has ever demonstrated a historical correlation between the two. On the contrary, the jagged trend line of violent crime in America looks nothing at all like the trend line for depictions of violence in mass media.
Yet this scapegoating of the media persists -- including, of course, the Evil of All Evils, advertising. Ad Age this week ran an op-ed titled "In a Culture of Mass Shootings, the Ad Industry Shares the Blame." David Morse, who runs a research shop called New American Dimensions, strains to draw that very link. I say “strain” because he uses so many question marks to equivocate that the column is as much quiz show as commentary. Still, he seems to be advising the advertising industry to walk away from the gun lest it have more blood on its hands.
Oh, for crying out loud. What fatuous scapegoating. Morse is imputing sinister powers to an institution that most of the time can't get Americans to switch deodorants. Dude -- advertising doesn't kill people.
People kill people. With guns.