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January 17, 2011

Violence in America? It’s Evil Incarnate (Now Start the Name Calling)

Since the Giffords shooting a week ago, I’ve been troubled over the tendency to explain away Jared Loughner not as someone mentally ill but, instead, as evil incarnate. This new Newsweek cover (reinvigorated, I’ve read, through the merger with The Daily Beast) exploits this tendency, abstracting this kid and psychopaths like him by turning him/them into “the other.”

Newsweek primarily accomplishes it through illustration, using a style drawn from the comic book world to turn Loughner and the others into an unknowable incubus from the shadow world. (Help me out here if you know specific bad ass evil comic book netherworld ghouls better than I do.)

The additional twist here, given the flag and the hyper-nationalism we’ve experienced in words and pictures since 9/11, lately exaggerated further by the Tea Party, is to write off any social dimension to the problem by simply pathologizing the country too, framing Laughner as not just a mutation, but a patriotic mutation.

There are other troubling associations here, too, pressing the “other” button.  For example, does anybody else imagine Islamic garb?

And then, check out the caption. The red “A” causes us to break up the words in a way that encourages us not to try and understand, but to crudely debase these assailants, to piss on him. You ASS. You double ASS. And then, in the same way America since 9/11 has reverted to the reptilian brain, the bible and the clean, all-purpose “evil” attribution to avoid grappling with the context and motivation for hateful acts, the title (beyond the name calling) prompts us to see last week’s shooting, and the actions of all American assassins simply AS SINS.

(Cover and image 2: Newsweek. image 3:  Allan Tannenbaum. caption: Timothy McVeigh, age 27, under arrest in Perry, Oklahoma, April 21, 1995, two days after the terrorist bombing of the Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City, OK, which left 168 men, women, and children dead.)


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