Not a week goes by, it seems, without a mass shooting in the USA. The world’s oldest democracy also has the highest rate of gun related deaths in the developed world. It’s a shocking public safety problem, and it’s caused by the fact that the Constitution of the Unitied States says that the government cannot curtail its citizens’ right to bear arms.
Thinking about the ‘Bollocks To Nick Griffin‘ video I posted set me reminiscing about the Imagined Village ‘Empire and Love‘ concert I attended in 2010. Chris Wood is part of the collective, and before the main event he performed an acoustic set. Among the songs was an amazing, chilling song about the killing of Jean Charles De Menezes. I did not realise until now that the track is called ‘Hollow Point’ and actually won best song at the 2011 Folk Awards.
I still remember the chill I felt when I first heard Chris sing the words “He never heard the footsteps behind him / by the bus stop at Tulse Hill”. In that moment, what was an abstract story of an everyman trying to make his way in the world becomes a frighteningly specific narration of the final moments of one particular person. The accompaniment is a simple acoustic guitar, but the lyrics build to an inevitable crescendo, just as the CCTV footage we have seen of De Menezes on that day builds to the inevitable, appalling, unseen dénouement down in the carriage. Continue reading “Two Great Folk Songs on the Danger of Guns”
The shootings in Tuscon present a difficult conundrum. On the one hand, we cannot seriously suggest that Sarah Palin and the other Tea Party demagogues literally sponsored or otherwise provoked the spree. But on the other, the inflammatory rhetoric of recent American politics has made many people (including myself) very uneasy, and this massacre feels like something expected, inevitable. Jonathan Raban’s column in the Independent today seems to strike the right balance, rightly pointing out that it is the entire discourse and culture that is at fault:
The gunsights were intended as an eye-catching metaphor in the metaphor-stuffed rhetoric of the Tea Party movement, which loves to harp on a fanciful parallel between today’s opposition to healthcare reform, the stimulus package and the bank bailouts, the case for providing amnesty to illegal immigrants, and all the rest, with the great patriotic war of the American Revolution in the 1770s. It’s the sort of historical comparison designed to appeal deeply to people who are ignorant of history, and it generates a stream of metaphors for heroic resistance, involving muskets, funny trousers and tricorn hats.
There is a chance, if rather a slim one, that the Tucson massacre will make both politicians and commentators draw back and reconsider their terms. Politics is not warfare. The Democratic party is not a colonialist tyranny. Obama is not George III. To live in a slew of overheated metaphors, in language vastly disproportionate to the occasion, is to invite and license the kind of atrocity that happened the day before yesterday.
Some on America’s extreme right have already begun to hit-back those who have criticised Sarah Palin for the gun-sight imagery she used on a campaigning website during last year’s mid-term elections. But I don’t think this criticism of Palin is cynical. Rather, it is an inelegant erruption of a thousand ‘told you sos’, from all those who have been concerned by the Tea Party’s divisive rhetoric. Explaining why statements like “a second ammendment solution” (Nevada senate candidate Sharon Angle) are dangerous and undemocratic usually takes a fair few paragraphs of historical and political blogging to get right. In the face of an hysterical, pseudo-patriotic libertarian fervour, the more compassionate and reasoned of our American cousins have struggled to articulate a counterpoint. The Arizona shootings are sick and twisted, but they have also made a complex set of ideas seem very simple indeed. A single word, ‘#Tuscon’ will now suffice to refudiate and dampen the more sinister and threatening political rhetoric. A single face will come to symbolise how far the pendulum can swing. This is in itself reductive, however.