The Massacre In The Mall:
A response to the violence that is occurring in public institutions throughout the United States
(Note: Many years have gone by since this event occurred. Below is the news summary of the event, but after you are given some scope, think of Robert as an abstract concept, if you can. This will give the essay more of an objective impact that can float between the pages of history and perhaps shorten the distance between here and now and the future that will be.)
“The Westroads Mall shooting was a mass shooting that occurred on Wednesday, December 5, 2007, at the Von Maur department store in the Westroads Mall in Omaha, Nebraska, United States. Nineteen-year-old Robert A. Hawkins killed nine people (including himself) and wounded four, two of them critically. It was the deadliest mass murder in Nebraska since the rampage of Charles Starkweather in 1958.”
It was my final semester in undergraduate school. The United States was at war. The Recession was still only a small worm and I believe… the sub-prime housing fiasco was still just theory and kicked around in small group discussion. I felt cut-off from the real world and I wanted to be done with college, and back then I would write two papers for each one assigned. After I was done I would choose the paper I thought was the better of the two, and I wrote this paper about the constant onslaught of shootings that occur throughout the media on university campuses, and I was going to use it for a class I was taking pertaining to media studies but changed my mind (went with one about the rise of CCTV) because…I’m not sure why…
Fast forward a few months later, and following the latest college massacre that took place around Chicago, I’m going to at least try to say what I think is going on. And I will note, that some thoughts that I struggled with in my mind, even seem radical in nature to me, but the fact is, these blood filled events we exist in are being constantly manifested by the younger generation of our society, and so the issue should be addressed by someone within that troubled generation. Few will listen, but at least it was mentioned.
The news is intertwined with various forms of media. From film to music, the intertextuality (everything is of the same kind and meaning) of these concepts is truly a modern marvel and it is beautifully stunning. Nobody knows how to talk about the rate of information we come in contact with every second of our lives, and it has been said that in a postmodern world, we ourselves are a form of media that is copied and edited as much as the visual pictures and digitized words that come out of our television screens. In this particular paradox I found a strange ironic twist in the mall shooting spree; as details filtered out of the events about who the actual shooter was, a profile of the killer was painted for the viewer, and soon after, a suicide note was found. Everyone wanted to know:
And so, why did he do it?
That’s what we want to know, or rather, should want to know…
His first name was Robert, and yes, this young man committed this act of violence, there are no doubts about that, it was him… still, the question is why? Why did a young man who was going through all the postmodern trials and tribulations that all of us in this overly mediated generation go through finally…? “Snap”, as he said he did in the words he left on paper?
Let’s dig into his mind:
Two familiar phrases were found in his suicide note. Robert claimed to go on this suicidal killing spree in order “To be famous” and to “go out in style”. Yes, that is a real reason to shoot up a department store full of strangers, to “be famous”. This is nonsense and crazy, of course there’s more, and if consumers of the news blame the media for framing this in his head, then we are missing the point why someone would want to be famous in the first place. Fame is of course a mediated concept. One becomes famous because they are manufactured into a consumer product. A person who is famous has to be a brand, and although a person could say that Robert was in fact…a brand and a product, and one that was used by the media, he gained nothing from this fame. So why did he do it? Start with this premise and then go from there:
He was insane. Robert was a young postmodern man who lost it, and so no, fame is not what he wanted, because for him to be famous, his own words in his suicide note would mean that he wanted to be around to witness the fame. If he wanted to be famous he would not have taken his own life. Robert killed himself and nine strangers because it was a pure act of greed and hopelessness. Perhaps fame was a minuscule variable that played into the killer’s motive, but there must be more underlining postmodern consumer concepts that played a bigger part into the why, that this violent outbreak of human destruction occurred.
Following the media’s story of the facts, more words and phrases came from the suicide note that could shed some information onto why he might have committed this horrific crime. Robert said he did not want to be a “burden to anyone” and also that he could not stand his “meaningless existence” anymore. These two quotes (in this writer’s opinion) brighten the event and illuminate just a bit more, on the state of mind that Robert was in. Deducing from what was said, this paper, has come to the conclusion that the massacre in the mall happened because of this:
Robert wasn’t after fame and he wasn’t trying to get something out of his crime, for there was no gain for him in the outcome he followed to the very end; rather he was trying to run away from existence by destroying it. In theory, fame cannot be totally disputed as a variable of why this act occurred, but the emotional response of “can’t stand” (Robert’s own words found in the suicide note) seem like a more accurate conclusion of why the crime was committed.
Humans are real, organic in nature, and so is their existence. The postmodern world has assimilated technology into our lives, and in many ways today’s human can be said to be a cyborg of sorts. But one thing technology cannot interact with are the two inherent human conditions which are birth and death. For when one is dead technology is no longer a solution in filling-in the potholes that exist throughout our society. It is true, that fame may seek the dead, but the dead do not seek fame. Robert said that he was running from his “meaningless existence”; this young man was going through all different kinds of pain that is (sadly) common amongst many individuals of his generation. What happened, well happened, and it might have occurred because of this:
He admittedly “snapped”, but what led Robert to that ending? His file and profile speak loudly if you listen. He did what all cowards do, he quit. People don’t tell the truth in there suicide notes. He was a killer, albeit a conflicted killer that was produced by our society, but a killer none the less. So why then, do we take it at face value, when he said he wanted to be “famous”?
The truth is that you should not trust those who kill, because in-fact, they don’t even trust themselves, because they are killers, and some are sad, and fame is not what he wanted, no, it was death. Why he took people with him is hard to decipher. I think the phrase “going out in style” has something to do with the crime. Now going out with style is different than being famous, and if the media can be blamed for anything, it can be blamed for the constant onslaught of horrific ideas (mixed with glossy sexual desire) that existed in this man’s head, and in very cliché way, in Robert’s sadistic media created imagination, I do believe he thought that he was going out in style, but it wasn’t cool, no; the way Robert went out wasn’t original, it was done in one of the most replicated counterculture ways possible, and the irony of this postmodern problem is that even his motive and supposed random and spontaneous crime has been replicated in the past… in the fiction realm of our media.
The truth is, no matter how sad the ending was, He was a re-run, and that’s all. Robert was a carbon copy of a nightmare that exists in the society we’ve all taken part in creating. He was a nightmare that we pay countless millions of dollars for, in order to entertain us, and it can easily be determined that the media as well as all other aspects of this generalized postmodern world, had an extreme impact on the shooter, and I can agree with anybody there, but if our media has had such a negative and deadly impact on Robert, well then how does it impact the individuals of our society who don’t seek escape from existence, however meaningless they may believe it to be? We must start to think about the living, if we want to end the bloodshed:
Where Do We Go From Here?
Many underlining themes were apparent in the news frenzy that surrounded this particular crime. Any basic introduction to media studies will tell you that the language implemented (by the media) can be used as evidence in most cases of social aggression, based upon its repeated themes of moral behavior. The media is the medium (the television is the symbol transmitted to the viewer more than the program they’re watching) act as a way to inform the mass public that the concepts of good and evil and fear and violence, can happen to anyone anywhere, and at…any time. Below are some of the words that the media used when reporting the massacre in the mall:
Consumers were, “shopping where they thought it was safe”, and they “never thought it would happen here”.
And note: I want to stress that this isn’t what the survivors said, but rather what the news reporters said, and these are not first hand reports; rather they are themes and not sentences and words, but concepts that have been reported over and over for decades throughout the various outlets that the media encompasses. The one thing every station has in common is fear:
From school shootings to terrorist attacks, everything is shaking and has it always been this bad? This is something a normal American might ask about their country, and not just because more people are being murdered and crime is running rampant (statistics show that violence has been going down as the media has become more prominent in society)….no…there is more to the story than just dead bodies. The truth is violence and fear are replicated with the very same assembly-line techniques that the media replicates our happiness with, and this underlining theme of fear, is produced with multiple contradictions that exist in the text we as consumers encounter, and if what I’ve said is true, my question is, how do we stop this crime from happening again?
According to the news, the crime committed by Robert was both spontaneous and premeditated, but now let’s go to a typical mediated tale of the tape:
The massacre in the mall was also “random”. The guns went off at a place where it “wasn’t supposed to happen”, and the perpetrator was a white middle class boy who was “very troubled”. That’s enough and I’m sure you get where I’m going with this play by play narration…wait… let me ask the reader this:
Do you see what the news is telling you about the story now? They’re informing you (even if you don’t pick up on this) that violence can happen everywhere or it can happen nowhere. This way of reporting is making you think that someone who looks like your brother or sister might either shake your hand or kill you, and you just… never know, because the killer is inside of you, and so what can you do, other than become afraid of everything, and it’s a joke; these are just replicated themes in which cause fear, and fear itself, creates the cohersion of the masses.
The events that left people dead were of course tragic, and I’m not disputing the fact that Robert destroyed multiple families in his spree, but what I tried to examine in this paper was the actual reasons why a young man of his pedigree would commit this type of violence. Many will blame the media for its depiction of violence, while some will blame the government for its lack of gun regulation, and while both create an acceptable answer for the shooting, I believe it goes much deeper than skin…
As a young man around the same age as Robert, I see the constant struggle within the low-leveled consciousness of a middle-class generation. Through being raised with the American dream dangling in our cribs, to the onslaught of experimental advertising that was born in the early eighties, we saw the rise of the postmodern condition. For many young people, even those with college degrees, the future seems bleak. We live in a constant faltering economy where industry has been decimated. For good or bad we are controlled by technology, and not by the passion for being a better people; my generation is truly the first postmodern generation, and the contradictions that exist within our everyday lives have shaped the course of our world. The commercials and the papers and the scrolling eyes have all held the hand of the tragic event that occurred in the supposed “heart of this country”. Instead of blaming anything we need to ask…how come?
The event is over and the young man is dead, and the massacre in the mall now sleeps in our collective memory. For the most part the innocent have already been forgotten, and Robert was undoubtedly evil, but he was the type of evil that was created by everything that we as a society have created. He gave-up and gave-in to the imaginary demons that conflicted him and ended up breaking him and shattering his born-with peace, and yes, He should be hated by the mass public, but at the same time, he should not be forgotten, for Robert can show us that further investigation into our social order must be addressed before more people die for absolutely no apparent reason. We cannot let the good die in vain, and the idea of abstract fear must be stomped out of existence, and not by force, but through education and rational conversation. We have to talk about youth depression, and we have to do it now. We have to ask why…
There is always more to the story, no matter how bloody or brutal…there is always more to the story, and it never stops and it’s not black and white, and it’s not even in color anymore, it’s in high definition, and we just have to learn how to see everything a bit better all over again. We must humanize technology to be more like the best of human nature, and we must to catch-up to the technology that we’ve created and (for some people) induces such high levels of anxiety within the lone-individual; through the mediated consciousness we must clarify the impact that the postmodern world is having on its youth, and the cost is infinite, it is the great game of life and it is a battle we cannot lose, because if we give-up and cater to defeat, what we are paying money for is the end of peace… forever…as we know it; if we as a people do not talk with open arms and the love for the living, the mass killings will be replicated up until the very last second of the history of The United States of America. If we do nothing more than huff and puff and execute those who’ve (in madness) executed us, if we do not try and solve the social problem totally detached from ideologies; if the only thing that we do as a population, is watch, we are nothing but a dead state that will be remembered for our great sports stadiums and abandoned monuments etched with scribbles that read of freedom and hope.
As I finish this paper, the next massacre in the mall has already happened and been forgotten about. It is not too late, and the next Robert is alive at this very moment, and he’s terrified and becoming a monster, and this alone should send remorseful chills down everyone’s spine. He’s already been born, and he’s not fully cooked, his veins still contain love, and we can look at this with fear or we can refine the goodness we share with each other and open are mouths and talk about stopping the madness, and the positive aspect of this…is that there is still a chance that this individual whom is conflicted by his postmodern existence may find the humanity and family that seems (for people like him and her) to be nonexistent in our society. It is true: He or she is here and will either kill themselves or take others down with them, but this is not because of fear, this is because of our failure to expand.
These are citizens and many of them will be the future. Some of the falling stones are our children… they are America, and in the end, we need to give them every resource we can afford, to save the foundation that this concept of country has claimed it was built upon. This can only occur if we pull together and stop doing the same thing over and over.
As a society we must address the mediated existence we collectively live within and base our postmodern progression on our inherent positive humanistic attributes. We are good people. Never forget that.