Saturday, April 04, 2009

Mass Murder in Binghamton

Fourteen people are dead in Binghamton, NY as a result of another mass murder. With the recession, the mass murders are building up as the Binghamton killing follow hard on the murders in Alabama and Oakland.

I'm originally from a little town less than 40 miles west of Binghamton on Rt 17 (now I-86 I think) and know the area well.

As Fingerlakeswanderer says in the Open Salon blog, Binghamton is an industrial town that's lost most of its industry. According to the elementary school social studies books I read as a kid, Binghamton was supposed to be an up and coming city during the sixties.

But it never took off.

Binghamton was a crossroads city on the interstate highway system but never developed much in the way of restaurants, malls, or even gas stations around the highways.

IBM was big in the Binghamton area but it never seemed to get any bigger and none of the other computer/techn0logy companies located to the area. Then IBM got a lot smaller.

Binghamton University is a great university but the city hasn't been able to build on that in the same ways as other college towns.

I remember going to downtown Binghamton while I was in high school and wondering where the downtown was. It was just kind of a faceless place. My friends and I didn't even think enough of Binghamton to stigmatize it as the "armpit of the universe" like we stigmatized Utica and Rome (places none of us had ever been).

It also seems like the whole Southern Tier of upstate NY has become more "country" and impoverished over the last 20 years. I hear stuff on and off about Klan organizations, survivalists, and guys abandoning civilization for the woods. There's also a lot more NASCAR symbolism around my home town and I've even seen a confederate flag on the NY/PA border. Today's my mother's birthday and she talked a lot about how more attention needed to be paid to poor people who needed help but weren't eligible for government assistance.

The area didn't use to be that poor.

What's this have to do with the shootings?

Probably nothing.

All over the U. S., there's just an extremely volatile mix of rage, guns, and role models of mass murderers. Columbine killers Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold have become cult figures among the copycat killers at Virginia Tech, Northern Illinois, and other places. Watching the Dark Knight, I wondered if the Joker's blowing up the hospital wasn't modeled after Harris and Klebold's plans for Columbine High. Guns are ubiquitous and accumulating one's own little personal arsenal is a cultural style in places like Eastern KY.

Likewise, the mostly male rage has so many sources in popular culture (video games, porn, music, movies, cop shows, sports, the broad condemnation of any kind of failure, etc., etc.,) that it's almost useless to point to any one source of the problem.

That whole mix of rage, guns, and mass murder models has come under a great deal of pressure as a result of the recession and I think that what's happening is that there have been a lot of little murder explosions like the one in Binghamton. To give folks an idea of the volatility, my 14 year old daughter told me today about three boys talking about ways to torture people during her geometry class and that's WITH the counseling the school is providing for them. I disagree with Fingerlakeswanderer about gun control being the answer. I think limits on gun possession are a good idea, but the murder problem is so broadly cultural at this point and that eliminating the mass murders would have to involve major adjustments in American values and popular culture as well as gun policy.

Given that I don't see that happening, I just hope the recession eases so there's fewer triggers on the rage.

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