by Kate Daley-Bailey
While the rhetoric revolving around the recent mass shooting at an Connecticut school has been reduced to a gun-control or mental health policy argument, I would like to highlight a different troubling trend in American media culture, the inability for American society to view ‘young, white males’ as a social category.
Much of the apathy and terror generated in response to these attacks comes from our culture’s inability to identify the motives and rationality behind such horrific acts like those we have recently witnessed in Colorado, Connecticut, and Alabama. Many of us are merely viral witnesses to these random acts of violence, paralyzed by fear and shock. Quickly the media scrambled to tie the assailant to a cultural, political, racial, or economic demographic… to find the identifying clue which will contextualize this murderer and restore some sense of safety and order to the general public. Consistently, media culture generates a protean lexicon to identify and categorize people. Identities are easily summed up with catchphrases and trending terms. There is one significant exception to the rule… the young, white male.
My intention here is by no means to champion overgeneralizations, encourage stereotypes, or in any other way validate or rather negate any taxonomy. I just find it curious that when confronted with the ‘young, white male’ description, our normative cultural categories fail. I suspect the reason for this might originate in an increasingly popular ideology in American media, which is curiously fraught with Protestant mores. This view is that every American is a rational individual whose worth is based on the sum of their ‘production’ value. This worldview is underpinned by a type of Randian individualism and while those subscribing to this ideology may be willing to cede that some ‘people’ may be socially constructed beings (think women and minorities)… they will never surrender the ‘individuality’ of the ‘young, white male.’ The ‘young, white male’ remains the quintessential ‘self’ in American culture which the populous refuses to reduce to a particular worldview, bias, or agenda. For surely, these killers were not products of our culture… we choose to believe that like all ‘individuals’ they made rational choices based on the free market of ideals. When these choices result in mass murder, our media producers are bereft of any ideological agenda with which to align such radical behavior. The default assumption is that the killer must be ‘insane,’ another fluid category which is a culture’s last ditch effort to assign order.
Perhaps middle-class, white America (if there is such a thing) is blind to the similarities in these incidents because acknowledging said similarities would shed light on the social construction of our own ‘individuality’? So despite all the terror, these murderous young, white males have visited on the American public, they remain in our estimation… individuals.