In Response to Stephen Marche Saying Sandy Hook Is Not a Tragedy

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I wept with the President when he spoke from Newtown. The dismay had anchored in me from the moment I heard the news. I watched the media play again and again the footage of those children exiting the school, screaming and confused. It made me nauseous. I watched the President speak as I sat at the edge of my bed, overwhelmed by the fact that all those little lives were robbed. I mourned the eternally brave teachers who sacrificed themselves for the sake of saving the children that they could. I mourned the devastating loss of innocence that those surviving children will have to endure. I mourned the reality that they have to face now much too soon.

As the President wiped away a tear, I cried too, because I knew that those children and those families were going to find a certain unenviable strength within themselves, surrounded by each other, in a time when it’s hard to imagine that Earth isn’t actually Hell itself.

Thinking about those parents waiting outside Sandy Hook School, praying that their child walks out alive. It’s an upsetting thought my girlfriend and I couldn’t help but imagine and grieve for.

We all know the Media is a vehicle of sensationalism. It amplifies everything into sound bytes. Through our televisions, apps, radios, papers, and magazines, we find writers and editors conducting melodrama.

Enter Stephen Marche

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Stephen Marche is a columnist who has attempted to re-define Sandy Hook not as a tragedy, but strictly as a mode of highlighting bad policy. In his recent article for Esquire, The Newtown Massacre Is Not A Tragedy, Marche writes:

“Tragedy, even in common speech, means an exceptional and significant death. Those adjectives do not apply to Newtown. Mother Jones has the most incredible list of America mass murders here. What it describes is a new reality, which is simply this: Mass murder has become an ordinary part of American life. The horror of the Newtown massacre is that it’s not a tragedy. It’s not exceptional. And most likely it’s not significant.”

Marche is simply hijacking this tragedy to gain exposure and readership. He’s Rush Limbaughing the spotlight. It’s pathetic that Esquire even ran such a piece.  If those children dying needlessly is not exceptional and significant than what is?

The “most incredible list of America mass murders” that Marche cites is an abridged list that leads you to believe that yes, maybe this is a new trend in America. Unfortunately, the mass murdering trend didn’t start to boom in the 1980s. Mass murders have existed ever since America was nothing but colonies freckled along the Atlantic coast.

If you want to narrow it down to just the massacres on school grounds carried out by a single person, the list can date as far back as 1927. That’s not the first massacre to take place at a school in American history but it’s certainly one of worst.

The Bath Township Massacre saw Andrew Keyhoe detonate bombs inside and outside a school in Michigan killing over 40 people. Many of the victims were young students. That’s just one of the earliest massacres on school grounds in America.

We have a long history of this type of savagery. In no way is this new reality, as Marche rails. It has always been this perversely violent. Marche’s 21st century cynicism only has so much reach. His piece could have been stronger if he wrote about how long and sick America’s historical problem with mass murders really is. And how, it is hard to have to keep naming these tragedies since they keep coming. How our mourning seems to overlap from tragedy to tragedy.

Sadly, Marche is wrong, these massacres are not at all a new American reality. They have always been a stain on the ugly portion of our American identity. America’s reality has continually dealt with the gruesome massacres that scar deep into the fabric of our history. We just forget about them faster now. We try not to but we do.

Besides trying to make a point about enacting real policy and shaking up our government to do something, I read Marche also as bringing up a good point (whether he meant to or not) about the death of our language and how we abuse it. I can agree that in our society we tend to destroy the meanings of words. If we use words like Love and Hate too often, if we apply them to too many things, they begin to lose their meaning. And yes, I agree it is possible to even lose the meaning of the word Tragedy. People love to indulge in extreme adjective sports. I do it all the time. I’m probably doing it in the piece as I write.

These days everyone is in Love with Everything and Everything is Tragic. The Best thing Ever. Or Awesome. Or Amazing.

Says Louis C.K.:

“We go right for the top shelf words now. We don’t think about how we talk. ‘Dude, this is AMAZING.’ Really, you’re amazed? By a basket of chicken wings? What are you gonna do with the rest of your life now? What is something really happens to you? What if Jesus comes down from the sky, makes love to you all night long and leaves the new living lord in your belly? What are you gonna call that. You used ‘AMAZING’ on a basket of chicken wings.”

However, when 26 people are murdered in an elementary school, I am confident in labeling that an absolute tragedy. Nothing else. Obviously Marche is trying to make a “point.” To make policies that help prevent terrible events such as these. But to what end is he making a point? His piece just comes off as offensive. As a ploy to get more people to click on his link. (Which is one reason why I didn’t want to write this, but he pissed me off too much…)

Marche trying to strip Sandy Hook of it’s unfortunate status as a Tragedy is tactless and is another part of the sensational machine that has deeply infected media. He even goes so far as to question any tears shed by anyone not directly involved by the Sandy Hook massacre. Including the president.

Why was President Obama crying when he spoke at the vigil? I don’t know, maybe he’s actually a human like the rest of us. Whether you like him or not. He also cried during his last stump speech. And also when he spoke to his campaign staff after winning a second term. Maybe, this tragedy opened up a well in him that is connected to the stress of the economy. I believe we saw him cry as a father. As a human who can empathize. That is all. I don’t find it necessary to question his tears here. Or anyone else’s.

A politician’s tears are transparent when they are being used for political benefit. The president’s tears however were motivated by nothing more than honest human sadness.

Marche writes:

“My hope is that he was crying out of shame. Because if he was crying because the children of Newtown are “our children” and this is a “tragedy,” if he was crying out of some worked-up sentimental empathy, then forget him. Really… Newtown wasn’t a tragedy; Newtown was a policy decision. We can do nothing for the children who are dead; weeping for them like they’re our own is partly ridiculous, and partly obscene.”

Rightfully so, Marche demands action from our President.  We should all demand action from every single one of our presidents. Especially when we are faced with moments like Sandy Hook. However, no amount of Government or policy or precaution can brace anyone for the unnecessary evils we face in the world. We live in a world where evil people will always find a way to be armed.

So when Stephen Marche attacks not only the president’s tears, but my own, and those of my family, and friends, and anyone else with a fucking heart, I’m insanely concerned. If I wasn’t concerned enough already about the misuse of sensational news media as our journalists seek to drain every last inch of “angle” from every disturbing story, like disaster vampires, we have Marche, a Canadian novelist, making a reckless plea against a very real urge to empathize. To be intrinsically human.

Those children do not have to be my own for me to experience utter remorse. As a writer, you think Marche would exhibit the ability to empathize. He’s worn the skins of his own characters, how could he not?

I fear that Esquire is no less prone to sensationalism than the NY Post or The National Enquirer.

Why would Esquire run a piece like this? Even as some of those families are still burying their dead. This article was published entirely for the shock value. To start Facebook comment wars. To gain followers. As much as Marche might want to bring about change in policy, to make our Government do something to stop this type of misery, it falls short. It’s insulting.

Marche sounds just as repulsive as Mike Huckabee blaming the recent events on a lack of God in our schools. “We’ve systematically removed God from our schools… should we be so surprised that schools would become a place of carnage?”

Marche sounds just as hideous as the Evangelical radio host James Dobson who said, “I mean, millions of people have decided that God doesn’t exist or he’s irrelevant to me, and we have killed 54 million babies, and the institution of marriage is right on the verge of a complete redefinition. Believe me, that is going to have consequences, too.”

These comments are right up there on the lunatic meter with John Hagee blaming Hurricane Katrina on homosexuality.

Where was Marche during the Aurora shootings? He wrote an article called, Don’t Blame the Movie, but Don’t Ignore It Either. In it, Marche only briefly touches on the idea of tragedy.

“One possible etymology of ‘tragedy’ — much debated by scholars — is ‘goat song,’ suggesting that the performance of each play followed the sacrifice of an animal.”

It’s columnists like Marche that abuse these tragedies and spin them in such a way that it boosts their audience. It is a lousy attempt to sound provocative.

Marche has a history of whoring himself to controversy. In October 2010, for Toronto’s Globe and Mail, Marche covered a mayoral race. One of the candidates was an overweight man. Marche had this to say, “The mounds of fat that encircle” the man’s “body like great deflated tires of defeat are truly unprecedented in Canadian politics.”

Surely, Marche is in it to make people feel like fools. Fools for being out of shape. Fools for mourning.

Marche even plays fortune teller in his Sandy Hook article, like a blindfolded dart player, and loosely threatens us with the next massacre in 2013 where, “at some point, a young man with severe mental health issues is going to find a way to access automatic weapons legally. He is going to go into a public place, and he is going to massacre many, many innocent people. Are we going to call that a tragedy, too? Is President Obama going to weep for them, too?”

It’s a penny prophecy from another internet drama queen. His article reads like a heavy Facebook comment. It is opinion that is meant to astonish.

No matter what policies and changes we see in the upcoming months. We will never see it coming. The persons carrying out the evils have been Army Majors. It’s been grad school students. It’s been lovers. It’s been White. Korean. It’s high school students.

In the aftermath, when we look back at the tragedy, and whatever facts we might have to make sense of it, it’s any of us. There is no rhyme.

What Marche fails to spotlight is the actual goodness that comes out of such tragedies. As hard as it is to believe, goodness does still happen. Those stories unfortunately don’t get picked up as much by the big magazines and papers. They are spread around social media by people who are sickened with the type of news and reporting and opinions that columnists like Marche write.

Youtube is flooded with people singing songs in tribute of the victims. Individuals across the country are doing 26 good deeds in honor of Sandy Hook. People are reaching out to one another. Athletes are playing games in honor of victims. Writing condolences. Remembering each victim, honoring them, and trying to ignore the media as they wave around the killer’s face on the front page.

To say that this wasn’t a tragedy is a gross interpretation. America has been witness to these types of massacres for far too long. It just always cuts deeper when children so young are involved. Marche should be embarrassed for trying to make his point in such a way. Yes, we can use this time to talk about prevention and awareness and also to help give comfort to the children that survived. And to also comfort the children who can’t help but see the news and who have questions.

Honestly, I don’t think the word “tragedy” is a strong enough definition for what happened. Nothing is. In that sense then, maybe Marche is right about Sandy Hook not being one.

– Shane Cashman

You can read Marche’s article HERE.

Sandy Hook had their own school song. A recording of the children singing it is on their website. There is no way anyone can hear this song now and not mourn the devastation.

Listen HERE.

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