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December 18, 2007

Culture Maven: Shoot first, reflect later

For a moment, let’s simply suppose we’ve never seen the photo before. For this exercise’s sake, let’s forget what we’ve read about Robbie Hawkins. Erase from memory how he walked into an Omaha mall the week before last. How he took the escalator to the third floor of the tony Von Maur department store filled with holiday shoppers being serenaded by the store’s signature live pianist. How he then pulled out an AK-47 and sprayed bullets around the room. How he killed eight very innocent people and then aimed the rifle at himself, ending the carnage and his own misery.OK, now, imagine that somebody we know, perhaps a work companion whose family isn’t totally familiar, pulls the photo out in the coffee room and passes it around.What might we think — absent the context of recent news?We’d probably recognize it as a school yearbook snapshot, one of millions taken every year with sheets of them sold in various sizes so Granny can’t possibly run out. We’d notice the less-than-designer-stylish glasses, the long hair slightly unkempt. Upon observing the white hoodie he’s wearing, we’d be apt to chuckle, remembering how our parents made us get a little more dressed up on yearbook picture day.We’d probably take note of his rosy cheeks. The word “cherubic” might cross our minds. Perhaps his full, somewhat feminine lips might draw our attention.The more observant would take note of his fragile demeanor, his innocent bearing, the hint of longing in his eyes, questioning something about which he’s not quite sure.“Is that your son,” we’d probably ask? “Friendly looking kid.”That a troubled soul with low self-esteem walked into a mall in the heartland and vented his rage with a firearm is, sadly, no longer startling. This was the fourth such incident this year. Previous such tragedies plagued Salt Lake City, Kansas City and Douglasville, Ga. Those aren’t places that scream high-crime area.Which is not to mention other troubling incidents, such as the shootings at Virginia Tech or at those churches in Colorado right after Robbie Hawkins’ explosion.That he was a foster kid from a broken home and had a minor criminal past was not the least bit surprising. But, if we’re in that vacuum just looking at his photo, observing that deceptive visage of seemingly normal American teendom, how can we not be tormented?How can we not contemplate what disconnect made him snap that way?How can we not wonder what has happened, nay, what has gone very, very wrong, here in the Land of the Free and the Home of the Brave?My question is this: What have we wrought?Robbie Hawkins’ yearbook photo possesses me. I am haunted. I cannot shake the image. Nor can I stop contemplating the contradictions it represents.It’s possible that this is about gun control. Or the never-ending dialog surrounding that issue. Maybe it’s about video games, one more violent and full of sickening death than the next. Or television or the movies where violence is de rigueur, where familiar faces die several times a year whether they need to or not.There’s a chance it’s reflective of this ongoing war the country’s in and the disgraceful manner in which it’s ignored in the mainstream’s daily life.How did we as a society arrive at a juncture where blowing people away seems an appropriate method of commandeering self-esteem?Who among us didn’t suffer depression as a teen? The other kids were smarter and cooler. Our parents, if around, were morons who loved our siblings more. If not around, they were elusive presences. Who would ever fall in love with us? If only we had that shirt, or those wheels, then … but we didn’t. So we became anxious and depressed, thought ill of ourselves.Yet, in my generation, the baby boomers, we’d never think of finding a gun and shooting up the Frisch’s Big Boy. Now, decades later, it’s almost a default response.I am at a loss.I feel so sorry for those felled at Von Maur.I feel sorry for Robbie Hawkins.Most of all, I am disturbed by the evolving ethos that has overcome us. Where essentially innocent but troubled folks find solace in gunning down others. Where we as a society move on too quickly without considering how we got to this awful place, and what we might to do to escape it. Contact the writer at cdk@culturemaven.com