Monday, December 17, 2012

The Hobbit, The Tragedy in Newtown, and the Nature of Good and Evil


I had originally just planned to review my first viewing of The Hobbit, but after Friday's tragic events in Connecticut, I felt I had to say something.

As a nation, we have a lot of things to think about. A lot of things to think about as a people. As the human race. There are a lot of hard questions. Gun Control. Mental Health Care. Security measures in certain public places. The media, and how it reports on such events. Unfortunately, there are no easy answers.

But instead of getting all political on the topic, I want to bring it back to my original planned post, and talk about J.R.R. Tolkien, his amazing stories, and what he knows about good and evil. Tolkien served as Second Lieutenant in the British Army during World War I, and without going into too much gruesome detail, suffice to say he saw the horrors of war first hand, and learned of the evil of men in the most horrific ways.

So even though surely Tolkien knew evil was often carried out by men, and surely saw evil deeds done by soldiers on both sides of the conflict, when he wrote, the evil he penned was faceless, and most terrifying when it was an unknown, even ethereal entity (such as Sauron's eye, or the Necromancer in the new film).

I would like to argue that we ought to make evil faceless again. Perhaps even nameless.

The way the media handles events like Friday's tragedy can't possibly help. These sick people, whatever their problems may be, are obviously haunted by what legacy they might leave behind, and when CNN, Fox News, and MSNBC put their names and faces all over the screens that live in all our homes, the next troubled individual thinks that he can be famous too.

I won't reprint their names here, but surely Virginia Tech, Columbine, Sandy Hook, and all other similar such tragedies could have been reduced or even avoided if we didn't make celebrities out of their perpetrators. In our society, in the cult of personality, where being famous is akin to holiness, something has got to change.

There is also a great post about the state of mental health services, over at The Anarchist Soccer Mom. I strongly urge you to read it.

51 comments:

  1. Good point! If we really think about it, the true source of that kind of evil doesn't have a face.

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  2. I agree that criminals that commit heinous, massive, and highly mediatized crimes may light a fire for other criminals to try and be remembered that way as well. But it's like with anything else- video games, television, or movies causing violent behavior in children, etc... The media isn't the source and I, for one, choose not to remember the names or faces of those criminals but rather honor their victims. I'm having a hard time, with all the controversies you've mentioned, trying to figure out how I feel about what measures will make a difference. but as I said in today's post, I do understand why people feel strongly on all sides of the spectrum.

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    1. Yeah, I hear you, Katie. It's easy to talk about Gun Control, or the lack of services for Mental Health, but the saddest part is that there is no simple solution.

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  3. I've often argued that one of the worst things Reagan did for our country was to dump the mentally ill out onto our streets. We certainly do need to improve on both guns and mental illness in the US.

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  4. So true Matt. And I agree with Ted too. Sadly, the Michigan legislature passed a law last week allowing concealed guns in schools. I'm praying this week that our Governor changes his mind and doesn't sign it.

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    1. What? Carried by whom? That sounds ridiculous.

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  5. Well said, Matt. Well said indeed.

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  6. Here in CT, I wasn't able to see The Hobbit Friday night like I had planned...didn't seem right and my heart was too heavy. But there probably couldn't be a more appropriate story to remind us that evil exists--but can be conquered.
    Tolkien was amazing.

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    1. He sure was. And I'm so sorry for what happened, Faith. I didn't realize you lived so close.

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  7. The media kept throwing "facts" out there about this crime, and more than half of it was wrong. And now they're focusing on the murderer - because sensationalism sells. I hate it. Now we're dealing with the potential for copycats.

    One of the churches in Newtown where they held a memorial for the victims was even victimized when some moron called and said that he would finish what his "friend" started. Just sickening.

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    1. I heard about that. It is completely sickening. What is wrong with people?

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  8. I loved the post by the Anarchist Soccer Mom. And you are so totally right. It's not just an either/or issue. It's an everything issue and we need to start working towards solutions

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    1. Exactly. It's easy to say it's because guns are too easy to purchase, or because health care doesn't provide for the mentally ill, but it's so much more complicated than any one of those little things.

      And Anarchist Soccer Mom is so very brave.

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  9. "...the legacy they might leave behind..." I couldn't agree with you more, Matt. WE need to look at the grander picture and not just the individual tragedies. There have been too many, now. And no finger pointing, either. Unite and find helpful solutions to bring progress and change, not more hate and discontent.

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  10. I agree Matt. I also linked to that post because it isn't just about guns -although we need to talk about that, too - it's about everything that's been mentioned.

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    1. Completely agree, Marcy. Guns is only one part of the equation.

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  11. I must disagree on one point. The perpetrators in these cases seem to be doing it out of their own rage or mental state. If they wanted to be made celebrities, why do so few choose to live to enjoy that celebrity?

    School slayings aren't new. In 1927, I think, some one blew up a school in Bath, Michigan. Evil is with is. What's new is the wall-to-wall media coverage. I chose to opt out on that for this event once they started claiming the killer 'had Asperger Syndrome which is like being a sociopath, they have no empathy...' That is an error. I have Asperger Syndrome and I know. It's nothing like being a sociopath. But in a media storm they don't have time to find the correct information.

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  12. I love you, Matt. You write so well. This is one of the best posts on the events of last Friday, and you have done a brilliant thing by showing us Tolkien's powerful portrayal of evil without a face. Because all this death and destruction is surely evil walking abroad and, like Hobbits everywhere, we must do our best, little and unmagic though we may be, to defeat it.

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    1. Well said, Mike. And there is this line in the new movie ...

      SPOILER ALERT

      ...

      ... when Galadriel asks Gandalf "why the Hobbit?" And Gandalf says, "Because I am afraid, and he gives me courage."

      END SPOILER

      ... and I couldn't help but think of my own children. Because, really, that's all someone like me can do to change the world: teach my children to be good people.

      Anyway, thanks, Mike. It was a tough post to write, because ... you know, what can we possibly say about such madness?

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    2. I cannot wait to see the movie! (The Hobbit was the first Tolkien I read, and was the start of my love of fantasy.)

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    3. I hope you like it, Mike. It's not perfect, but it's very good.

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  13. I could not agree more. The media sensationalized these events & perpetrators, yes, to inform, but also for ratings. That sickens me. It's about time they cover the underlying reasons, like a system that chooses not to treat mental illness, let alone acknowledge it.

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    1. Exactly. And why can't we focus and report more on the heroes? Like the teacher who locked her kids in the closet, and told the gunman they were in the gym ...

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  14. I agree with you 100%, Matthew. I wish more than anything that the media would be more sensitive to such issues. Morgan Freeman made a powerful statement very similar to yours. We give them fame and immortality for creating horrific acts. It is terrifying and heartbreaking. Thanks for the beautiful post.

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    1. I heard about that, and he probably said it better than me, bu either way, it's a good point. Thanks, Shannon.

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  15. I couldn't bear to watch the news. Have been purposely avoiding it, not so much to put my head in the sand, but because it makes me physically ill. Lots of well-considered blogs writtens about the tragedy this morning, though, including this one.

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  16. It's too early for me to analyze. I'm still at the WTH point.

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  17. In many ways, it's all just like children misbehaving to get attention.

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    1. I suppose in a way, that's true, Andrew.

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  18. Did you see what Morgan Freeman wrote? Dude, it's similar to what you are saying. So yeah, I agree with you.

    And I loved the Hobbit despite the fact I did a face plant on the concrete at the IMAX and was in excruciating pain.

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    1. Are you serious? I'm so sorry to hear that, Mike! That stinks.

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  19. Thanks for the heartfelt post, Matt. It's so hard to speak about these things, especially being parents, but that's why it's all the more necessary to do so. Thanks for posting what I would not be able to.

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    1. I was very on the fence about what to say. And in fact, when my younger daughter woke up sick this morning, I have to admit, I was a little thankful.

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  20. Agree with all points. I'm a teacher, and this hits home for me too much, added to that is the parent facet. Too hard for me to articulate anything but the fact that my heart aches.

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    1. I totally understand that, Mike. Thanks for the comment anyway.

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  21. Right to the heart of the matter. Good for you!

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  22. Hear hear! This is so complicated an issue, but there are things that can be done.

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  23. The other night, Anderson Cooper actually did a fine job of focusing on the innocent victims. During his segment, he refused to say the perpetrator's name. Then, right after his show/segment went off air, another segment began with... you guessed it... the perpetrator's face and name. It was the first thing the guy said when coming on air. Unbelievable. Thanks for the post and your connecting thoughts to Tolkien.

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    1. I didn't see that from Anderson Cooper, but it doesn't surprise me.

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  24. Excellent post Matt as was the post written by the courageous, Anarchist Soccer Mom. We may not have all the answers, but it starts by talking about the issues and putting real heart into trying to find a solution.

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  25. Very good point. We needn't glorify the perpetrators of such atrocities. We've got to reach that middle ground that had the elves afraid to name Sauron but that made Gandalf dare to speak the words of the ring aloud.

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    1. So very well said. Thank you very much, Deniz.

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Thanks for adding to the mayhem!