Thoughts on books and other assorted topics.
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My name: Brian Martin
In "Guns," Stephen King admits he's a gun owner, and he takes the weakest possible position regarding gun control: let's get rid of the guns (assault rifles) that seemingly exist for no other reason than to kill people. All he needed for this purpose was a brief position statement, not an essay. But that's not King's style. He's a writer, famous for running off at the mouth in a hundred different directions on the belief (occasionally justified) that it will all come together and make sense in the end. This time, however, it doesn't work. This time, it makes him look more than a little foolish.
Take the statistic (no source cited) with which he ends the piece: each day in America, about eighty people die of gunshot wounds. That's nearly 30,000 people every year. Now take the total gunshot murders from a specific year, say 2011 (available on fbi.gov). That number is about 8,500, less than a third. If we confine the murders to those committed with "rifles" (the FBI data doesn't make a distinction between types of rifles) the number is 323. So, even if every rifle murder was an assault rifle murder (obviously it isn't), then that would account for about four days' worth of the deaths that King cites. What about the other 361 days of the average year?
Just because assault rifle deaths are only a small part of a much larger problem doesn't mean they aren't a problem, of course. But King talks out of both sides of his mouth. He roundly rejects the idea promoted by the NRA's Wayne LaPierre that Americans live "in a culture of violence." Common sense suggests that King can't possibly be dismissing this idea in a country that has nearly 30,000 gunshot deaths every year. But he could easily dismiss it in a country that has, it's safe to say, less than 300 assault rifle deaths every year. He wants to have his cake and feed it to millions of readers, too.
In fact, King isn't quite sure what sort of culture we live in. He begins his essay making the case that we live in a culture of sick and twisted news media. Later, he quips that we live in a "culture of Kardashian." Whatever it is, though, he is certain it isn't a culture of violence. To prove this point, he cites non-violent bestselling books and high-grossing films. That's like telling a cancer patient that because he looks all right, he must be healthy.
And then there's Rage, King's own dismal contribution to sick and twisted media, a book that, with charming authorial blindness, he still believes is an "honest" book. Rage, if you recall, became a source of controversy when several kids who had read it attempted in various ways to recreate its events. It's about a high school kid who kills his algebra teacher and takes his class hostage. After learning of a couple of these incidents, King asked that the book be removed from publication. He didn't do it because the book was causing the incidents -- the kids were obviously nuts to begin with -- but, really, just because he's such a nice guy. It might, he concedes, have been an "accelerant," but nothing more. No doubt what really caused these kids to go over the deep end was bullying at school, neglect and abuse at home.
Bullying, neglect, abuse, and the match to touch off the blast -- but no culture of violence. These problems, evidently, are isolated to these people and a few other misfits like them, not part of our wider society. We can ignore the fact that they encompass school, home, and media. Right? Okay, then: now those 30,000 gunshot deaths a year make sense.
I recently read Ira Levin's first novel, A Kiss Before Dying. As I usually do, I read a little about it and him afterward, and discovered the following quotation from Levin: “I feel guilty that ‘Rosemary’s Baby’ led to ‘The Exorcist,’ ‘The Omen.’ A whole generation has been exposed, has more belief in Satan. I don’t believe in Satan. And I feel that the strong fundamentalism we have would not be as strong if there hadn’t been so many of these books."
The link Levin draws between media and society isn't any dotted line; it's clear and solid. How could it be otherwise in a culture as saturated by media as ours? King, however, has no guilt at all about Rage (even though, as he would himself admit, its literary value barely registers next to that of Rosemary's Baby). Perhaps this can be explained by the rest of Levin's quotation: despite his guilt, Levin said, "I didn’t send back any of the royalty checks.” In essence, King did, by pulling Rage from publication. So, in his mind, he may feel he's already paid his debt to society.
If all of this sounds like I think King was wrong to publish Rage in the first place, then I apologize. That isn't my point at all. My point is that King is dead wrong that we do not live in a culture of violence and dead wrong that media isn't a big part of it.
He writes, "[T]he restriction of heavy weaponry works, possibly because most of these yo-yos are so dismally screwed up they probably need a map to put their pants on in the morning." "Yo-yos." This is how King refers to victims of bullying, neglect, and abuse. And why not? This is exactly how our "non-violent" society as a whole refers to them. My point is, King can't even see the inanity of the contradiction.
King does say one thing I agree with (though in a silly way). He says that our society is much too polarized, that things would be better if we could somehow get more people shaded toward the middle. But at this point, we diverge again. He thinks that there, in the middle, we could all agree to at least some restrictions on the sale and ownership of guns, to, in effect, comb the cancer patient's hair and brush his teeth. I, on the other hand, think that we could then begin to treat the damn disease.