One day last August, I read a cluster of news headlines on Phillynewsfeeds.com. They dismayed me, so I copied and pasted them to a file while I thought about their weird, peculiarly American horror.
One day last August, I read a cluster of news headlines on Phillynewsfeeds.com. They dismayed me, so I copied and pasted them to a file while I thought about their weird, peculiarly American horror. I confess, I have not yet grasped what they say about us, but here are my notes. Maybe it would help if I turned the problem over to you.
The Headlines, 7:30 p.m., Aug. 28, 2021
Same day: "4-Year-Old Boy Hospitalized After Being Shot in Foot in Strawberry Mansion"
And then: 33-Year-Old Man Shot in Head, Killed in East Frankford, Philadelphia Police Say
Followed by: ‘This Is What America Is About’: Afghan Refugees Arrive at Philadelphia International Airport
"This is what America is about." An unfortunate juxtaposition? An accidental revelation of an "inconvenient truth" about our society? The speaker of that quote was Philadelphia mayor, Jim Kenney, and his words, composed on short notice, were appropriate and true, at least in theory. Politicians do like to wave the flag while reciting from the Statue of Liberty plaque: "Give me your tired, your poor, Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, The wretched refuse of your teeming shore..." (By the way, Congress passed the infamous "Chinese Exclusion Act" in 1882, a year before Emma Lazarus wrote the words cast in bronze on the Statue of Liberty.)
If those headlines represent "just another day in Philly," let us hope the city's newest immigrants don't read them for a while. In 2021, more than 560 people were murdered in the city and at least 2,300 were shot, Philadelphia City Councilmemember Kenyatta Johnson said in a statement released last month.
What's the solution? Better gun control? More policing? Community outreach? Better education? Many good people are working hard to eliminate or reduce this problem and I'm sure you'll join me in hoping they succeed.
In the meantime, what about us non-shooters? Should we arm ourselves? Many people say it's time to fight back. Carjacking, for one thing, has become an increasingly common crime – over 800 cases last year, and about 140 so far this year, according to the Philadelphia Inquirer. The safe thing to do, one would guess, would be to avoid the neighborhoods where carjackings are common. That does not help the residents who live there, however, nor the people who are compelled by their livelihoods to work or drive through the communities. A handful of recent cases of car owners shooting would-be jackers have been reported in the Philadelphia media in the past few weeks.
What do you do, other than speak out, sign petitions, or attend rallies? The daily crimes and tragedies that surround us are constantly squeezing us to become "comfortably numb," as Pink Floyd moaned in "The Wall." Terrible, violent images are the media wallpaper that surrounds us now. If we engage the world at all, we're subjected to them, and, psychologists will tell us, become emotionally dead in one part of our souls and filled with stress hormones in the others.
We live at the edge of a battlefield. Strange thing, though, most of us have never seen a person killed in reality. People we've known, and some we've loved, have been – through their own, or others' negligence or heartlessness. What we have seen, however, are thousands upon thousands of pictures, movies, TV shows and newscasts of people being killed and maimed by every possible means. And we've seen them from childhood despite the various ratings systems meant to protect us while we're still at a tender age. At some point, we pass that youthful age and are deemed to be okay enough to see them and start becoming numb. ("You're just going to feel a little pinch here.")
Enabling this zombie-like transformation is something else that bothers me greatly - advertisements. If you click through any of the internet news headlines mentioned at the beginning of this column, you will be subjected to embedded advertisements. Things like this headline from February 6, "Child Shot in Port Richmond During Argument Between Tow Truck Drivers” might be sandwiched between advertisements for thinning eyelash remedies or football player Rob Gronkowski’s favorite shoes.
Though it's not the intention of the advertisers to say so, the ultimate message of the show you're watching, magazine you're reading, or website you're browsing is "Hey, don't take the content of this page or program so seriously. Life goes on, my friend, and really, forget that kid in the tow truck ... We just told you about him to get your attention – you really do need a better hemorrhoid cream."
Yes, yes, no advertiser, no show. And let's not forget: even the most high-brow newscasts are part of the entertainment industry.
To me, it’s as if a friend walked up to me on the Avenue and told me, in detail, that my dog just got run over by a car. And then he started showing me his latest yoyo trick or tried selling me a bathrobe.