Since Valentines Day I have been grappling with an intense desire to write a post that expresses some personal emotions and reactions to the Stoneman Douglas High School shooting. I say grappling because, in so many ways, it hasn’t been an easy process. The following post is soft-core political (depending on one’s perspective) and will be connecting some Roachian ideas to the shooting, gun violence, and how national identity plays a role in all of it.
WARNING: POST DISCUSSES gun violence/discourse, the Stoneman Douglas High School shooting, gun religion, and issues of national identity
There are two things in particular that have held me back from this blog post: first, where do I start my thread in connecting gun violence to Roach? Where does that thread begin and does it ever end? Second, how do I satisfactorily write this post without running the risk of telling a story that is not mine? I felt this need to keep the conversation going in an attempt to preserve the memory of both the Stoneman Douglas kids and shooting, but actively put away and forget the name of the criminal who committed the atrocity, all the while feeling as though I might accidentally tell a story that doesn’t belong to me. I felt stuck.
Today is March 1st, so I started my day by reflecting on the whirlwind that was February 2018. My thoughts drifted through memories of hair changes, love interests, nights out (good and bad), and striking tragedy. Upon further reflection I realized that I have thought about the poem “America is a Gun” by Brian Bilston just about every day since February 14th.
I think this poem has stayed with me partially because if the increasingly evident truth it holds in United States’ culture at large, and because of the poem’s stark simplicity in language and form. Every day, it seems that the relationship between guns and patriotism grows tighter, and to borrow an idea generated from Dr. Doggett, it seems that this relationship clings to memories of the past and fears for the future, thus forgetting the very present and pressing problem of gun violence. And I think right now it is our countries obsession, whether you are for or against gun control. My mind automatically wanders to this tweet I saw yesterday about a church in PA where members were performing a religious ceremony worshipping guns. Apparently, they believe that the AR-15 is the “rod of iron” referenced in Revelation 2:27 of the Bible, which effectively turns the gun into an effigy of something that is simultaneously revered by some and despised by others. To fully make use of Roach’s language, the ceremony is literally inducing “memory through surrogation” by embodying something from the past in order to generate more “cultural constructions” similar to the ones Roach lists.
With all these ideas rolling around in my head going into class today, it almost seemed like fate that Doggett started us off with a video from The New York Times which outlines the imaginary constructs that foster national identity (you can find the video, “National Identity is Made Up” by Max Fisher and Amanda Taub, here). I was immediately invested in the video, so much that I turned to Clio sitting next to me and excitedly whispered, “How Roachian is this!?” The video is overflowing with similarities between Roach’s philosophy and 432’s ubiquitous theme of water. One of the first main points Fisher brings up is the danger of a blind adherence to one’s national identity, calling it “the myth that built the modern world… [which] also primes us for dictatorship, racism, genocide.” It concurrently reminds me of our favorite Roach quote, “Violence is the performance of waste,” as well as the idea that water is necessary for any community to survive but can easily be a source of catastrophe and destruction.
I argue that the excessive and indiscriminate nationalism in the U.S. cultivates a culture that is fixated on their right to bear arms. To reiterate and expand upon a statement I made earlier, I think this fixation is partially sustained through a singular collective memory of the forefathers who built the United States from the soil up with guns by their side the whole time. Again, subscription to the history of one’s country is a convention that Fisher argues builds a country and its national identity. Additionally, both Roach and Fisher argue that there is a general sense of fear outside the comfortable bubbles of community and commonality created by national identity that divides “us” and “them” or “Other” (to quote Roach directly). While Roach and Fisher might be talking about the Others in terms of different cultural groups, I’m referring to the fear or acute paranoia of the government that has historically been the grounds for gun debate. It’s common understanding that power in the government should be derived from the people (Fisher). Consequently, the government is no longer an immortal figure to be worshipped, but another Other figure to be, what? Exclusively feared by the people? Revered by the people? Criticize by the people? Whoa look at that, another effigy! Anyways, I think the answer is all three, but I emphasize the fear that seems to be ingrained in gun culture, calcified by the “permeability” of its imaginary walls. To some extent, I guess I understand this fear even though I don’t agree with its logic. Guns serve as a surrogate safety net for people who feel like they need to exert power and control of the self and society, even if they never actually use the gun. I feel the need to humanize this fear because this kind of thing functions on so many levels of society, but right now the gun debate is the “symbolically center” conflict that creates the mirage-like boarder that divides so many people (Roach). I think we’re getting to point in society where that doesn’t work anymore; those arguments are not enough. These arguments are washed up, churned about in the discourse so frequently that they have lost their meaning and I want something better, like real change and action! Anything that gets us closer to the dissolution of gun violence. This is my wish, and I will poke, prod, and stir the pot until it comes true.
I guess after hashing all this out, it seems to me that the number of guns and gun owners grows each day, which will inevitably lead to a growing amount of needless violence and waste, namely, gun violence and the waste of lives (be it in a school or at a club). In “National Identity is Made Up,” Fisher gives a call to action to create a “new myth” of national identity that needs to “feel as powerful as the last one.” It makes me wonder, is Generation Z the conglomerate of a blossoming “new myth” nationhood? From their activity I’ve seen on various websites, their unity in action for gun control has been a growing force to be reckoned with. Is the current “imagined” sense of national identity one that will ultimately lead to its own demise? Has gun violence and the disaster left in its timeworn wake become what will water Gen Z’s passion into the efflorescence of a new sense of national identity? As real as it is hypothetical, could it be a kinder, stronger, and more unified identity? Or is that ultimately impossible in a world where symbolic and social divides seem inevitable? I don’t know the answers to these questions, but that’s why I’m continuing the conversation in this blog, a space which rests both in and out of the classroom. To conclude, I think we are at a “promising yet dangerous juncture” with gun control and that Gen Z is the greater voice backing my beliefs and feelings (Roach). If we work together, hopefully our collective wish to reduce gun violence will be a reality.