In my first month at First Draft in 2009, I revisited a post I wrote for my eponymous blog on July 13, 2006. It was one of my rare lucid moments as a blogger as I compared post-K New Orleans to the grand finale of Great Expectations. I borrowed the title from Pink Floyd, Comfortably Numb. It struck me this morning that this theme was eerily applicable to the seemingly endless string of mass shootings we’ve had this year. Here’s a sample of the 2006 post:
Syd Barrett’s death got me thinking in Pink Floyd song titles. A scary concept, I know. Careful With That Axe, Eugene didn’t fit the situation here in NOLA but one title nailed it: Comfortably Numb from The Wall. Comfortably numb describes the state of our political, judicial and socio-economic systems here pre-K. We were muddling through at all levels but as long as we were comfortable, we were numb.
Then came Hurricane Katrina and the subsequent federal flood, which, by analogy, was to New Orleans what the last part of Great Expectations by Charles Dickens was to Pip the hero of the novel. Pip had always thought that the bitter recluse Miss Havisham had been his financial benefactor. He was wrong. His real patron was Magwich, an escaped convict turned magnate whom Pip had helped while a child.
How does this apply to NOLA? Miss Havisham is a perfect symbol of the city. For years, we allowed our city to rot and decay and instead of trying to do something about it, we turned to drama, drugs, booze, food and apathy. If I had a hundred dollar bill for every time I’ve heard “you can’t change fill in the blank it’s New Orleans,” I’d be as rich as Pip’s portly solicitor, Mr. Jaggers. I’ve heard that line applied to government, litter, crime, you name it; it’s the catchall excuse. The city and its people were all comfortably numb.
That’s where we find ourselves in regard to mass shootings in our country: we’re comfortably numb. They happen so often that they’ve become routine. President Obama urges us to not treat them as such, and he’s right as a matter of policy, but it’s human nature to seek a safe haven. Being comfortably numb helps ease the horror of events like the San Bernardino massacre.
One worrisome thing that happens after each of these dreadful event is the ritualistic response of various segments of society. As Athenae so eloquently pointed out last night, Republican politicians make a ritual of calling for prayers for the victims. The NRA, and the people who value the abstraction that is the Second Amendment, talk about mental illness and how much safer the world would be if all the good guys were armed to the teeth. Right thinking people who *want* to do something to stop the carnage advocate new gun control measures, which are automatically rejected by the Second Amendment purists and nothing happens. This post-massacre ritual/routine is the clearest indication that we’re still comfortably numb.
Another worrisome thing is how easy it is to divide mass shootings into genres as if they were movies. The slaughter in Southern California *could* be slotted into the workplace massacre genre also known as “going postal.” Since the perpetrators were Muslims with Arab names, the flying banshees of the Right *assume* that it’s Daesh/ISIL/Al-Qaeda related terrorism. We simply do not know the motives of the shooters at this point. We *do* know that it doesn’t fit into the following mass shooting genres: schools, health care clinics, shopping malls, fast food eateries; the variations seem to be horrifically endless. It’s no wonder that people want to crawl in bed and hide under the covers. It’s why we remain either comfortably or uncomfortably numb after each of these attacks.
I’m like everybody else: I just want the slaughter to stop. It’s clearly ridiculous for civilians to have military-style assault weapons, but in a country where a police union has advocated armed football fans such a reasonable goal seems unobtainable. One thing that would help the national discourse on this subject is for us to stop reacting ritualistically and stop slotting the shootings into genres. No wonder we’re comfortably numb: we can pigeonhole the latest atrocity and move on.
David Chase used a Roger Waters-Van Morrison version of Comfortably Numb as the soundtrack for the worst thing Tony ever did on The Sopranos: using a car wreck as an excuse to murder Christopher Moltisanti. Christopher popped the soundtrack of Scorsese’s The Departed into the CD player, which triggered the accident and Tony’s actions. After killing Christopher, Tony resorted to a string of rationalizations as to why it was the right gangster thing to do. He was never quite the same thereafter: becoming an even darker and more ruthless character as well as-you guessed it-comfortably numb. Let’s hope that life doesn’t imitate The Sopranos in this instance and we can move past our numbness in a constructive manner. I am, however, not optimistic. We’re all still comfortably numb.