Sunday, December 16, 2012


Human beings have an uncanny ability to distort reality to shape it into what they want it to be. We call it denial. It's an ability developed in childhood using fairy tales and other mythical/fictional stories to bring characters like Santa Clause or the Easter Bunny to life; at least in our imaginations. As kids we actually believe that these characters are real and this is reinforced with tricks like dressing dad up as Santa Clause. There comes a time, however, when our parents sit us down and begin to explain what's real and what's fantasy. At least they used to and I would like to think they still do. .

We now live in the age of "virtual reality"  in which we can create worlds of fantasy that in many instances are perceived to be real. The marketeers and money men are skilled at creating these fantasy worlds and tailoring them to appeal to the basest of our primal needs. Even though Freud was able to discern the "Neanderthal" (the Id) from the "Sapiens" (the Ego) and even throw in Societal Control (the Super Ego) it does not mean that we are still not driven by all three of these forces.

When sports commentator  Bob Costas pointed out in his comments how our "culture of violence" might correlate with football and the murder-suicide of one of its own the hate mail and death threats poured in to his mailbox.  Just as in the fairy tale where the child yells, the Emperor has no clothes"  the crowds went wild because it exposes the primitive side of our personalities that we so desperately try to deny. We, after all, like to kid ourselves into believing that we have evolved from the Roman times when football was played with human heads and cheered on by craved crowds packed into stadiums. When asked, what's the difference? When Costas pointed out it's still a "culture of violence" the fans went into a frenzy because he gently tapped on the wall of denial.  How dare he speak of violence during half time at a football game?

Why the strong reaction to a very real description of our "culture of violence?" Because it threatens to dispell our "fantasy world" where "magical thinking" dominates and where we can transform reality into whatever pleases and entertains us. It's gotten so bad that there are many of us who actually believe that "reality TV" is real and simply choose to ignore that there is a script and someone is editing these shows. Much like children do with Santa Clause.

We like to believe that the violence in video games like Grand Theft Auto in which one can rip the limbs off people, riddle them with bullets or blow up their blood gushing corpses is simply a form "entertainment." Yet millions are spent creating a "virtual reality" that defies being anything but real and which one can't be distinguished from the other. The one exception which is conveniently left out of the marketing is that. they  don't tell you that you can bring everyone back to life by just "rebooting" the game whereas there is no "reboot" in real life.

When reality does force our attention, like in the recent elementary school massacre, we react in disbelief. When we are jolted back into the real world we find ourselves at a loss of words to explain how (or why) a school teacher and soccer mom from "Hometown USA'" (which ironically was once named one of the safest cities in America) would have an arsenal suited for a combat soldier in Afghanistan and who raised a child that would be capable of indiscriminately slaughtering 5 to 10 year children and adults in one felt swoop. Some described it as "surreal" trying hard to stay safely behind the wall of denial they live in.

How can something like this happen we naively ask?  Our reaction is disbelief followed by desperate attempts to make it all go away. The media, the mental health professionals, the law enforcement agencies and yes, even the families and friends of the victims desperately try to deny that the American Dream has transformed into an "American Nightmare." The cameras quickly shift to family photos of the children, the candles and flowers adorning memorials, appeals to God for strength, and the condolences of celebrities filling the 24/7 news cycle.  There is a frantic attempt to conjure up theories to explain the whys and hows as to the cause of a tragedy such as this all in a desperate effort to protect ourselves from reality and to stay safely hidden in our state of denial.

Our mental health professionals (and I use the term loosely) tell us that if the whole truth be told we wouldn't be able to handle it. This could be nothing further from the truth. God forbid we should see the crime scene photos of the bullet ridden bodies of the children, the blood stained classroom floors, or the screaming, crying, anguish of the parents. That's too real for adults to handle folks, let alone even thinking about describing and showing what really happened to the surviving children.  Searing the images of these horrific crimes into our psyches might possibly motivate us to do something about the "culture of violence" we live in. What effect would that have on our economy and society? First off, it might bring us back to reality, drop the curtain of denial and, in doing so, give our children an opportunity to experience life in the real world. It might motivate them to change (rather than deny) things and make our world a real and  better place to live, which is something this generation has miserable failed at.

Johann Wagener 12-16-12