Jewish World Review Dec. 9, 2013/ 6 Teves, 5774
In the name of humanity, avoid Newtown tapes
By John Kass
JewishWorldReview.com | (MCT) In an act of mass self-brutalization, Americans reached for their computers Wednesday to summon the sounds of murder.
They were clicking on those 911 audio recordings, those voices of frightened teachers and parents calling for help at Sandy Hook Elementary School.
In the first hour alone, on the Chicago Tribune's website, there were more than 2,500 hits. That number increased exponentially on news sites across the country. The website hosting the recordings for many media outlets crashed repeatedly within the hour.
The desire to hear that fear must have been strong.
But just before the clicking began, I asked a colleague, a former Chicago police reporter, if she planned to listen.
"If I was working on it (as a police reporter), I'd have to," she said, "but I won't listen now, not in my human life."
Not in her human life.
That stuck with me all day, and will for a long while afterward, a casually brilliant truth from a woman who'd seen her share of brutality and senselessness in a professional capacity, yet was still trying to keep a wall around her humanity.
Even as she spoke, America got ready to click and click and click on those terrible, fearful sounds of the morning of Dec. 14, 2012, from Newtown, Conn.
Did you listen? Did you feel a piece of your soul flaking off?
Most of you already know the facts. The madman, Adam Lanza, 20, first shot his mother to death at home. Then he went to Sandy Hook Elementary School, where he killed 20 first-graders and six adults, including the school's principal.
Many of you may remember the photographs of that day. There is one I'll never forget: a little boy and what looks to be an older sister on the edge of the woods, the trees behind them, the boy looking off camera, to the school and to the unspeakable.
The boy has both hands covering his mouth and nose. His eyes are wide open. The girl has her head down, her arms around him, comforting and protecting him as an older sister might.
Something happened to their human lives that day, and they'll never recover what was lost.
"I have children," said another young woman when I asked her if she'd click on those 911 recordings.
Then she stopped, turned, looked at me and held up her right index finger to make her point.
"I just don't feel the need to listen," she said. "I don't feel I want to hear it. I don't."
But many did, on news websites, over radio and television, eager to hear the words of fear and helplessness on those 911 calls.
The reason could be as simple and as boring as what causes a gaper's block, the cars slowing to a crawl to witness the aftermath of a crash on the side of the road.
On the road we're helpless, trapped by the crawling cars around us. We see the crumpled car and wonder about the lives that were inside it, and the fact that we live is reaffirmed.
But this one is different. It might have something to do with control, stopping and starting and pausing and restarting. Manipulating the audio is an exercise in command, as if by controlling the auditory input we can control what's at the other end. Which was madness.
The murders of the children and their teachers were the expression of Adam Lanza's madness and his evil. And we can't control that.
We are a nation now fascinated by killers, at least fictional ones. Once we were thrilled by cowboys. Now we love our witty cannibals. Popular culture is consumed by them, even as they consume their victims.
You've probably lost count at the number of Hannibal Lecter movies, films that celebrate the clever, literate monster with fine taste in clothes, food, art and human flesh. Another top-rated show is "Dexter," which I've never seen. The hero is a serial killer. The last must-see TV show, now gone, was "Breaking Bad," about a manipulative teacher/drug dealer. I missed that one too.
And another, "CSI (and All its Derivative Offspring)," offers stories of intelligent murderers and cunning investigators who use reason and science to solve the crimes.
To know a people, you must know their entertainments.
The Romans had gladiatorial games. We have crime dramas in which monsters and heroes compete in battles of wits, and the prosecutors tie it all up with the big speech at the end of the show.
This, of course, has little to do with true crime.
Criminals are most often morons, barbarians using fists, chunks of rock, clubs or guns to satisfy their appetites. Many are depressingly stupid. Some are beasts. Few if any are criminal masterminds. They're best trapped in the corner with pointed sticks, not caught in some delicate web as if they were Professor Moriarty.
I didn't want to listen to the Sandy Hook tapes, but they were the subject of this column, so I listened. If you haven't yet heard them, do yourself a favor: Don't, and please protect a piece of that human life of yours.
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John Kass is a columnist for the Chicago Tribune. Comments by clicking here.
© 2012, Chicago Tribune. Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.