Friday, October 06, 2006

Irrelevant Modifiers and Security Fears

Despite the fact that it happened about half an hour away from me, I've read and watched little on the news about the latest school shooting. What I *have* seen, however, seems to be putting ridiculous emphasis on an irrelevant aspect of the shooting.

"Amish School Tragedy"

"Amish School Shooting Funds"

"Fifth Victim of Amish School Massacre to be buried today"

"Amish bury their dead"

One news story says, "Charles Roberts IV didn’t choose West Nickel Mines Amish School because it was Amish."

I don't get the part where "Amish" is the most important element of the horror. When Columbine happened, everyone referred to it as Columbine. Why are we not calling it "West Nickel Mines school tragedy"?

Does the fact that they're Amish make the tragedy worse? As if murdered seven-year-olds isn't bad enough. I'm sure the media is playing up that angle because the Amish are believed to be pure, devout, simple folk, and somehow that does increase the horror.

Perhaps, though, they are emphasizing that element for other reasons. Because an Amish school is different, you know. They probably don't have the tight security an English school would have (English being the Amish descriptor for the rest of us). Right? It's less likely to happen in my kids' school, right? Reassure me with that one word.

The fact is, though, there is no reassurance to be had. This guy had no apparent connection to the school (from what I can tell from the one story I read), unlike Columbine or other school shootings. My kids' schools have "procedures" and anyone who comes in is supposed to go straight to the office. The problem with that is that the elementary school where my second grader goes was built 40 years ago, and the office is not near the front doors. Which they don't lock. She's about to move back into her regular school, which was undergoing renovation, and that office has a door into the entryway, and the inside doors into the building usually ARE locked. So that's better. Except in the office is one sweet secretary who would be no obstacle to a gun-toting madman, who could get inside the building itself in seconds. The situation in my sixth-grader's school isn't much different.

So what am I gonna do about it?

First, if I have occasion to talk about the West Nickel Mines school shooting, that's what I'm going to call it.

Second, I'm gonna do nothing. If someone is crazy enough to do something like this, there is little chance to stop them. There's no way to predict or prevent it. Even if we added security guards and alarms and vault-style doors to our tiny schools, they would not deter a determined person. More importantly, death is just around the corner for all of us, all the time, no matter where we are or what we're doing. Branches fall off of trees. E. Coli gets into spinach. Lightning strikes. School buses crash (and my GOD, that's a helluva lot scarier--I Googled bus crash 'cause I knew one had happened recently, and there have been NINE or more in the last week). We take normal precautions, and some a little beyond normal, and then we have to forget about the rest, or go insane.

And not the good kind of insanity that comes from being a writer or drooling over hot guys on TV all week.


Karmela said...

West Nickel Mines Shooting it is. Nuance is everything. THe use (or non-use) of words is powerful and has so much more hidden, implicit meanings. I support you and agree with this stance.

Erica Orloff said...

Hi Natalie:
I think, truly, the media labeled it that way (Amish) because the Amish are like the Quakers in preaching nonviolence, and they will bury their dead and forgive the gunman in a way that is foreign to most of us. That is an element of the story. Yes, it's horrible and awful regardless of religion or the children's background, but I don't think the media uses the term "Amish" to reassure us that our kids' schools in mainstream America are different. But there is an element to the story that makes the deaths stand in a starker contrast to a way of life. Out in the wider world, Americans (not me, and I have no idea your politics) seem to sit back and watch the NRA co-opt our government's gun policies. Gun violence is astoundingly common, and children go to school with the threat of violence nearly everywhere. There is, like it or not, a poignancy to the horrific violence because of the peacefulness. It is how I feel over the slaughter of Tibetan Buddhists in China's horrific occupation of Tibet. Is war horrible all the time? Yes. But to a peaceable mountain people practicing the most peaceful and compassionate of faiths, there is an element that is that much sadder for me.


Natalie J. Damschroder said...

You make good points, Erica, but I think they'd be more valid if we were talking about adults. The contrast between such slaughter at, say, a night club versus a town meeting of Amish.

But to me, you can't make murder of seven-year-olds more horrific. These are CHILDREN, and their religion and lifestyle cannot possibly make what happened to them seem any more stark.

Also, I want to clarify that I'm not saying the "Amish" element is not part of the story.

But the emphasis in headlines and TV news teasers is meant to draw us in--as if that element makes the story more newsworthy and will attract more readers/viewers. That turns my stomach.

Erica Orloff said...

Well . . . I disagree. No, there is no way to make it MORE horrific. But knowing those people attended HIS funeral, and chose to forgive is an astounding message for all . . . It's not more newsworthy than any child killing, but it is a light in the darkest of stories.

Natalie J. Damschroder said...

Forgiveness of a transgressor is not unique to the Amish. And I find it unlikely that there are no Amish individuals who find themselves unable to forgive.

However, that's still way beyond my point. That aspect (light in the darkness) is a worthy part of the STORY. My protestation is of the use of the designation in headlines and teasers to draw reader and viewer interest. Not with the stories themselves (because, after I wrote the original post and read a little more about it, that was not a big element of the text--the emphasis has been only in headlines).