Evan is the story of Evan, an American boy in an urban high school, frustrated with the world enough to vandalize a schooldesk in the school library, carving I’M BORED in the desktop. If you don’t want it to be spoiled, watch it now. It’s not long.
But someone responds. And Evan replies back and a relationship thing starts happening.
While our eyes are directed on Evan, a different young man, Not-Evan or Nevan is in the background reading Guns And Ammo. Nevan is watching YouTube videos on how to shoot an assault rifle. Nevan is getting bullied by bigger guys. Nevan is posing with his gun on Facebook… day by day giving Shayamalanian foreshadowing of the big twist in the end. True to Sixth Sense form, the film goes back to review all the foreshadowing we missed. And we missed it because Evan was in the foreground falling in love with his mystery desk-etching companion. He meets her just as Nevan comes through the door, cocking his assault rifle with an awesome, chilling-yet-satisfying, sound effect.
At the end, cards tell us that gun violence is preventable…when you know the signs, then suggesting you visit their website at sandyhookpromise.org.
My opinions on guns are complicated, and grow more so (and less certain) with the new era. They’re not just complicated, they’re unusual, and other people find my position a bit strange. In the United States, as politics have become more and more divisive, we’re more and more divided into one of two ill-fitting groups. And in the meantime neither the open-carry side of the gun debate nor the gun-control side have played nice with the statistics, and there’s no Guttmacher Institute equivalent for gun crime data (and how it relates to other crime data). It doesn’t help that law enforcement has fudged numbers of their own, specifically statistics that have embarrassed them (e.g. how many innocent civilians police officers gun down or otherwise murder, either from too much enthusiasm or hatred or sheer cold blood.) It looks like the police have been in the number-fudging business for a long, long time.
And yes, the NRA is not just a giant back of dicks, but a supergiant bag of giant bags, each filled with bags of dicks. The whole thing is threatening to collapse into a star. But the NRA totally does not represent gun owners. They might have endeavored to do so once. But not now.
I may at some point address guns in the US more generally, and my strange points (and considered opinion) but not today.
sandyhookpromise smacks of being well meaning, but trying to solve a problem as complicated as catching ball lightning, or redirecting hurricanes away from New York. Rampage shootings have patterns to them, but they are black swan events, easy to spot in retrospect, but buried in other data beforehand. Prevention cannot come through looking for signs of suspects in anticipation of a shooting. To the contrary, we have to aim for reduction of incidents by providing potential killers with support and alternatives to despair and suicide / homicide. Mental health work is something like being James Bond in that no-one ever knows that you saved the world, because the big catastrophe never happened.
We’d save bunches of kids, not just from becoming rampage killers, but also from becoming sex offenders, from becoming drug addicts, from becoming gang members and from becoming trafficked sex workers by not treating our kids like prisoners and outlaws, which we do in spades. A good starting step is to make sure they have crisis counselors they can talk to in confidence. (Yes, in confidence, even if they admit they’ve been boffing the PE teacher, which they have. When you mandate counselors to report, then the kids don’t talk to them.)
For now, I’ll make a few points today and call it there:
• We are in an era of zero tolerance policies in which kids are getting suspended from pew-pewing with a gun(ish)-shaped Poptart. Really. Kids get sent home for wearing NRA shirts, or drawing pictures of guns, or creative-writing stories that involve gunplay. For each kid who points fingers and watches shooting videos in the library and ultimately turns into a rampage killer, there are hundreds of finger-pointing, video-watching kids who will never commit a serious crime in their lives. And for each rampage killer, there are dozens of kids getting suspended for inane reasons like pointing fingers and watching generally harmless videos. Watching for signs is going to only elevate the atmosphere of oppression that already prevails in US public schools.
• The late 2010s is also an era in which school administrators often resort to contacting the police for any minor incident. They are encouraged to do so, or even just keep law enforcement at the school facility at all times.
As I stated above, the police understate how often they shoot people, despite a congressional requirement that such statistics are reported annually. 2016 is the first year that multiple news agencies have been keeping track on their own. Police often will shoot unarmed civilians without provocation on the basis that that cell phone looked like a gun and some schools now teach their kids special classes covering how to behave when detained by the police so that they don’t shoot you. Law enforcement officers who murder indiscriminately rarely serve time (fourteen in US history, all of whom murdered a known personal associate). Our precincts are also eager to prematurely arrest people for threatening language, e.g. Gangsta rap lyrics on Facebook that sound ambiguously threatening. We are already losing our first amendment rights out of fear, and targeted individuals are losing their ability to say anything in private thanks to the NSA mass surveillance program that now passes on anonymous tips to local law enforcement.
With all that in mind, consider the horror we inflict on kids when school administrators, rather than handling discipline in-office, choose to outsource it to the police. The legal system is invoked frequently as it is, often for minor incidents. And by involving the police, these incidents cease to be minor, requiring jail time if not time in juvy. Case in point, clockmaker and freshman high-school student Ahmed Mohammed in which hours were spent by an officer alone with the minor suspect (without parents or representation) trying to convince him to admit he was a terrorist and the clock was a bomb. This is our legal system at work.
• Most gun deaths — gun deaths of kids, included — are self-inflicted. Being a kid in western culture is nearly always a pretty sucky experience. Even when just dealing with basic biological developments, such as getting one’s period or suddenly not being able to focus on anything except how interesting girls are, and yet all of society expects you to pretend you’re fine, and you’re a bad person for feeling these feelings.
Then here in the US we treat our kids like dirt, dry salty dirt that doesn’t grow anything. Mental health outreach programs that actually acknowledged how much of a bitch it is being a kid and a student in the US could save more lives than a total nation-wide gun ban.
• As could the President of the United States if he’d only sign an executive order discontinuing the CIA drone strike programs. At its meridian of activity, the Afghanistan program alone, taking-off 500 sorties a year murdered more innocent civilians than all the guns in the United States combined. The pilots call the dead children fun-sized terrorists. Yes really. (Drone piloting is a soul-destroying occupation. The pilots are pretty dead inside, themselves.) We’re phasing out drones in Afghanistan, but we’re escalating drone sorties in Pakistan (as much as we can. We’re running out of pilots willing to fly the missions.)
• Arson kills more people than guns do. And arsonists get away more often. Repeat mass murderers play with fire.
• Finally, let us acknowledge the sixty-percent-plus increase in hate crimes from Trump supporters. These are people angry enough and frustrated enough and insecure enough to turn on their (marginalized) fellow Americans only because the guy in office — their guy — is openly a nativist, a racist and a misogynist, which allows them to express that outrage themselves.
This is to say our authority figures, whether they are religious ministers or police officers or teachers or school administrators, or captains of industry or elected officials who Tweet their every thought to the public — each of these — serve to exemplify of how we should live and behave. This goes doubly so for our kids who haven’t established their identities yet and are more actively modelling those around them. When our persons in authority are well behaved, so are the people. And when they assault women and grab their pussies, well, some people feel they should be allowed to grope also.
So we should also acknowledge that our persons in power observably seek to cover their own asses rather than uphold ethics. They discriminate, themselves, regarding white boys over nonwhites (or nonboys). They regard better bigger, more athletic students over those who are small, and when small ones produce evidence of bullying they re-victimize them in punishing them for snitching or being wimps.
And the rest of the students — including those few crazies who might want to burn things or shoot things, but again, including the many many more who don’t see a place to fit in and would rather just blow their own brains out, or rest their head on a railroad track — they see all this too. And it shapes their world.
So the most powerful thing we might need to do to stop our kids from turning into rampage killers is to change the society around them to one that isn’t so despairing.
It’s not going to be easy. Many of these terrible lessons have been livestreamed to the minds of our kids for generations now, long before we’d call it livestreaming. Some adults go through their entire lives able to pinpoint the moments they almost went out in a blaze of glory and terror.
Our pundits disparage one half of the voting population for being idiots. Then they blame the rest, those who lost, for whining (id est perpetuating activism). And then they blame the countless non-voters for failing to give a single hydraulic frack. And this reflects to our children they are on their own, that no fracks are given for them either. That, according to the grown up world, they should shut their mouths because no one cares about their problems.
Our President-elect won his campaign by actively lying to the people, and engaging in bigoted vitriol. He endorses violence including public attacks on minorities and dissenters. He endorses the use of torture and thermonuclear weapons. He has threatened registries and internship of Muslims. He’s threatened to turn the Department of Justice against his political rivals any anyone else he wants silenced. And the President of the United States already has a robust espionage — surveillance — police — military state to do his dirty work. He won’t have to create one, since last two presidents did that for him.
Trump has demonstrated that we not only condone monsters in our midst, but we elect them to our highest offices.
This, too, sends a message to our children and young adults: You get ahead by lying relentlessly, by showing no mercy to those beneath you, by using your power to coerce women you desire, and so on. Trump is now the chief exemplar. He is the person our future generations will aspire to be, growing up during his term. Regardless if that’s good. Regardless of whether we want it or not.
In this context, unrestrained violence and resorting to extreme options such as guns, fire and weaponized biological agents starts to make real sense.
In this context, Evan is the failure in this picture. He’s meandering through life whining about being bored (through vandalism, no less). He’s the wimp of the story. Evan is the pussy. Evan is the loser.
Sure, it’s Bizarro world. It’s Opposite Day. Sure, Rome is ablaze. Barbarians are sieging the gate. It’s losers who show respect and civility, who regard others as fellows. Winners deceive and destroy and fight until they are rich, and then they can purchase respect and civility and love.
And long as the world swiftly tilts like this, it’s Nevan who is the winner by being the the fighter and the killer. Nevan is the guy that got proactive. Nevan is the guy who’s going to win this day.
Nevan has seen the writing on the fracking wall.
Nevan took charge, and in the end we get to see how prepared Evan is for Nevan. The video doesn’t even need to show who is going to win, because we know.
And yes, it totally is a contest. Just ask the President-elect.