Wednesday, December 05, 2007

A Short Road to Mass Murderer

As is well known from the news reports, a 20 year old named Robert Hawkins opened fire on a mall outside Omaha, Nebraska and killed eight people while wounding five before killing himself.
My general reaction to mass murderers like Eric Harris and Cho Seung Hui is that they're assholes who express their assholeness through mass murder.

Perhaps that will ultimately be the case with Robert Hawkins as well. But Hawkins formulated his determination to kill in a way that calls us to think about the particular pressures of our society.
Maruca-Kovac [a woman Hawkins had been staying with] found what the 20-year-old had left in the home: A suicide note, in which he said he was "going out in style," and that he'd never been anything in his life but after Wednesday he would be famous. Armed with a rifle, Hawkins went to the sprawling upscale Westroads Mall, filled with shoppers three weeks before Christmas. The Omaha World-Herald reported that he had a military-style haircut, a black backpack and wore a camouflage vest.
The problem is this. We live in a society where corporate CEO's on average make 375 times their lowest level employees creating a tremendous gulf between the extremely wealthy and the middle and lower-middle class. In many ways, the distance between the rich and the rest of us is best represented by the cult of celebrity in which the lifestyles of those who actors, actresses, and rock stars serve as embodiments for wealth and extravagance of the upper 1/2% in general. The other characteristic of the class system is that everyone who does not obtain wealth, status, or any of the other markers of "success" are pushed into thinking themselves to be "failures," "losers," "morons," and idiots.

This is where Robert Hawkins appeared to be. Having been kicked out of his parents' home and fired by McDonald's for stealing, Hawkins believed that "he'd never been anything." For the students at my university, that means that Hawkins was a "dumb-ass." At the same time, it's also clear that Hawkins measured himself against the celebrity system and ached to make up the gap between his own extremely humble status and the people "at the top." That's because Hawkins went on to claim that "after Wednesday he'd be famous." Who did Hawkins mean by "famous?" Evidently people like Paris Hilton, Brittany Spears, Lindsey Lohan, and Brad Pitt. Evidently being "famous" was a lot better than being Robert Hawkins.

There have been an enormous number of hierarchical societies in human history and I doubt that any of them produced as many mass murderers as the United States is creating these days. One reason is that the United States has a rich iconography of violence-- Colombine, the police, the military, gangs, hip hop, and a dozen other genres--through which guys like Robert Hawkins can imagine themselves as filling the gap between not being "anything" and being "famous." If someone like Robert Hawkins can kill enough people, he can be as famous as Eric Harris or Timothy McVey and he dressed up in a military haircut and a camouflage vest to represent himself as an ersatz soldier on a mission.

So what do we do? From my point of view, if we want to have fewer mass murders like Robert Hawkins, our society will both reduce the gap between the super-wealthy and the middle and stop the relentless humilitation of those who fail. We could also stop being so excited by the violent imagery that people like Hawkins use to bridge the gap.

For better or worse, stopping mass murderers like Hawkins involves becoming a different and better society.


Anonymous said...

So it's society and exorbitant CEO salaries that caused this loser to go on a rampage?

That's quite a stretch there, Caric.

Scott Sparks said...

You need to change the font color on your comments. The color is so close (in fact it almost matches) the background that I can barely tell when someone has posted a comment.

Ric Caric said...


Scott Sparks said...

Thanks! I like it much better, now I can see the comments!