Archive for January 2011

Violent Imagery Shapes Our Reality

January 26, 2011

Deadly wounds are healing slowly in Tucson. More than two weeks have passed already since Black Saturday (as one of my friends called the 8th of January) and most conversations and local news are still wrapped like tangled ribbons around that tragic event. People’s responses are amazing and in overwhelming numbers as always when great tragedy is encountered. The evidence of it is visible in front of the University Medical Center where the injured were treated — masses of flowers, notes, candles, photographs, and stuffed animals left for our Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords and the other victims of the shooting.

Memorial to Gabielle Giffords

The word “love” is visible and has surfaced very strongly in response to that tragic event.

Yes, Tucson is healing indeed, but an important quest now should follow. How do we prevent such tragedies in the future?

Almost everybody agrees that we have to be more civil in our political debates. I am also sure that there will be a lot of discussions concerning the gun control issue. I already received a letter/petition from Senator John Kerry of Massachusetts gently addressing the very issue of gun control in this country. “Look,” the letter says, “this isn’t about taking guns away from anyone who wants to buy them legally. It’s simply a plan to fix the system we have so that it respects the rights of stable, law abiding citizens but keeps guns out of the hands of those who shouldn’t have them.”

Such debates likely will take place in other states, but I doubt they will in Arizona. Here in Arizona too many believe that possession of guns is the basic right of a citizen and that it represents one of our fundamental freedoms.

“Guns do not kill, people do,” I hear, and there is some truth to it. Of course, there are exceptions, like the recent accident at one of LA’s schools where a gun fired unexpectedly in a student’s backpack and wounded a couple of other students. The presence of guns in schools is an absurdity, but it is today’s reality.

Why is there so much violence in our country?

Michael Moore in his movie Bowling for Columbine addressed that question several years ago. He spent a lot of time wandering from place to place in search of an answer. Then to his surprise (and ours) he found that our Canadian neighbors, like Americans, own a lot of guns, yet they don’t shoot each other nearly as often or as violently as we do. So what is the problem? It is clear to me that the answer is attitude — the attitude of righteousness, arrogance, and intolerance mixed with a desire to solve any problem by using power.

Such an attitude is nurtured slowly in the average American from an early age by constant exposure to an immense variety of violent imagery — starting from the war toys and electronic games to violent images pouring from our TV and movie screens.

"The American" DVD cover with George Clooney "Salt" DVD cover with Angelina Jolie

Let’s look for instance at the very popular movie Salt starring Angelina Jolie. The plot is very naïve, outdated, and hard to follow. The speed of the action is so high and intense and predictable that it might as well be no action at all. There is no question that watching Angelina Jolie full of amazing energy is the major attraction. Her skill in beating, kicking, jumping, and shooting is astonishing and the ridiculous ending of the movie strongly suggests that some day we might have Salt II to entertain us more.

A beautiful woman better trained and fit than any man, superior, and unbeatable. How very sexy! Yes, she is very sexy with or without guns, but being angry and running with a gun seems to be the new image of an exciting, sexy woman.

Just watch out (soon) for new and dangerous gangs of angry, ticked off “girls” on your street. Aren’t we — women — finally equal? Sure! How exciting!

Violence is glorified in this society; celebrities are almost worshipped or at least strongly occupy the minds of many. In the age of Facebook, YouTube, and Twitter everyone seems to want to have a piece of fame! A desire to be noticed, to be followed, to be more popular than others, to become a star even for a short moment.

Impressionable people (including “unstable minds”) want to have a piece of fame, too, without much work. Doing something outrageous and very noticeable seems to be an easy way. A political attack can fulfill that desire even more effectively.

We need to address the issue of glorifying violence sooner rather than later — before we find ourselves again in another “time for healing.”

Our society has changed its attitude towards many important issues, like the environment, smoking and eating habits. If we can change those, we can change our attitude towards violence, too.

Don’t you agree?

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Copyright © 2011 by Alicja Mann

American Tragedy in Tucson

January 12, 2011

What a different idea I had for 2011’s first entry in my blog! The writing was almost ready — poetic and happy as the first day of this year was for me — among loving friends celebrating the new year’s arrival in our house. A time of fun, best wishes, and new dreams. Being involved in an important and very hopeful event in my personal life, I delayed a bit finishing that entry. Suddenly I found myself in a moment when I could only sing the familiar “what a difference a day makes”… and wrote a totally different entry for my blog. In this space I had planned to have my photo “Dancing Lights.” Instead you see today “Lights of Sorrow.”

Gabrielle Giffords vigil

I am frustrated, sad, and devastated by the tragic shooting in Tucson this past Saturday. Living here it is hard to focus on anything but that. My gentle and kind Tucson is the center of attention for the national media and I wish that it would be for a very different reason. Almost nonstop, newspapers, TV stations, and a wide range of Internet media pour out information about the tragedy of our Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords and the other victims of the violent shooting. Today President Barack Obama and his wife Michelle arrived in Tucson to participate in a memorial ceremony. So I wonder, should I add my drop of water to the ocean of words of sympathy, information, commentary, and condolences? The answer is, “Yes!”  I feel a desire and obligation to do so. WHY? “Because in a strong democracy, the arts are inextricably linked to civic dialogue and hard-won freedoms, with arts providing leadership as observers and reflectors,” stated the Arizona Commission on the Arts in response to the Tucson tragedy. I couldn’t agree more and I do believe that writers have a special responsibility to voice themselves.

So here are my observations and reflections of the tragic event in Tucson.

Ironically on that now infamous Saturday we (my husband, my son visiting from California, and I) had plans for that evening in the very same area (at the corner of Ina and Oracle) where the tragedy happened. The plan was to go to the Bluefin restaurant located there, have dinner and listen to the music of Reno del Mar – two guitarists whom we know and like, and whom I wanted my son (also a musician) to meet. Instead, we spent that evening at a very different place — at the corner of Swan and Pima where Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords’ offices are located.

We went there with flowers and candles to join others in our grief. The vigil was small and not coordinated by anyone — totally spontaneous. People were there because they felt that it was the place to be at that moment. There were a few reporters talking to some of us. I happened to be interviewed by the Washington Post.

Leaving flowers outside Gabrielle Giffords' office

The place is familiar to me. It is very near our home and I pass it every day. We live in the Congresswoman’s district and are strong supporters of her. In fact, we were there several months ago for a totally different and joyful occasion — to participate in a Thank You party for Giffords after she voted for the health care bill. I even had a picture taken with her.

Alicja Mann with Gabrielle Giffords Smashed window at Gabrielle Giffords' office

Gabrielle Giffords needed special support from her constituents at that time. A few hours after she voted in favor of health care reform, the window of her Tucson office was smashed.

By focusing on our Congresswoman I do not want to diminish the tragedy of the other victims of this violent shooting.

Judge John Roll will not be able to serve us and fight for more fairness. The charming nine-year-old Christina Green will never experience the mystery of her adulthood. The lovely older couples will not celebrate their birthdays or wedding anniversaries. Many will suffer their physical and psychological wounds for a long time. Even though the prognosis for Gabrielle Giffords’ survival is optimistic, we do not know what her future will be. What we do know is that she was the main target of this violence — others just happened to be there at her “Congress on Your Corner” event.

We can call Jared Loughner insane, lunatic, irresponsible, etc., but it is clear that his target was Gabrielle Giffords. Congresswoman Giffords was chosen by us. She is part of our government. The act of violence against her is an act of violence against us, against democracy, stability, and peace.

Gabrielle Giffords memorial

Perhaps we will find that Loughner had no political motive, but we cannot deny that lately our country has experienced a terribly intolerant political atmosphere. It has been greatly amplified by the angry rhetoric of the Tea Party and especially of its queen Sarah Palin.

“Oh, words are just words,” people often say. Really? How about these words: “Get on Target for Victory in November. Help remove Gabrielle Giffords from office. Shoot a fully automatic M16 with Jesse Kelly” — a notice for a campaign event for Jesse Kelly, Giffords’ Republican opponent in the 2010 election.

Words have meaning. Words can hurt or can heal and should be used with respect. Words, their suggestive meanings, and their imagery are powerful tools. They can encourage violence. And if words are used as a weapon, they can indeed turn into real weapons!

So what to do?

I am signing a petition that I received from The petition will be sent to every member of Congress and major TV and cable news networks, and it reads:

“I call for an end to all overt or implied appeals to violence in American politics. We must debate, not hate.”

I urge you to do the same. Here is the link to sign the petition.

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Copyright © 2011 by Alicja Mann

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