Entry from October 25, 2002

You might have guessed that the sniper was going to turn out to be a postmodern criminal when Clint Van Zandt, the former FBI profiler who, having accused the killer of “playing God” immediately before the police got the message that “I am God,” told Tim Russert: “We are dealing with an interactive terrorist.” But most of the interactivity all depended, as so much does these days, on the inanity of the media coverage. It was therefore a richly comic experience to hear Mr. Russert’s line of questioning of his “experts,” as he offered them a whole series of idle speculations as to the modus operandi of the shooter and concluded, in reference to the latter’s being identified as a “coward,” with the question: “Should the name-calling stop?”

Media idiocy also lay behind the brief attempt, cut short only because arrests were made only a day or two later, to create a scandal out of the police’s withholding the warning, purporting to come from the sniper, that our children were not safe “any place, any time” — as if anyone but a fool ever supposed that complete safety were an option for children — or anyone else — sniper or no sniper.

But it was doubtless the way in which we are all equal before the media god, and are all eager to take up our assigned roles in its long-running psychodrama, that led to the best postmodern effects. Of these I take it the ne plus ultra came when the killer, still at large, angrily accused the police of “incompetence” for putting him on hold or hanging up on him when he called their tip-line. Neither the criminal nor the police appear to have doubted throughout the weeks of fear that it was the primary job of the investigation to listen to the madman and to submit, where appropriate, the evidences of his madness to the media for analysis. Only then might he be content to be caught.

The fear itself was the public’s part in the show, and they seemed to play it to perfection, at least if the faithfulness of the media in reporting their fear back to them is anything to go by. Few if any commentators were so hardy as to suggest to worried parents and spouses and children that it was absurd of them to cancel school sports and other public events because of the possibility of being shot, or to take police advice to walk in a zig-zag pattern if it were necessary to show themselves in public at all.

A report published on the day the killers were caught says that 50 per cent of respondents to a Washington Post poll confessed to being “very” or “somewhat” frightened of him. Nineteen per cent claimed not to be frightened at all.

Don’t these people watch TV? Don’t they know what is expected of them?

Broken down by sex, the results of the poll showed that 60 per cent of women were very or somewhat frightened but only 40 per cent of men. Though women were more likely to have wept over the shootings, both sexes were equally likely (75 per cent) to have experienced the emotion of anger.

Does this mean that men are braver than women? No, it only means that ours is still enough of an honor culture that some men still feel ashamed to admit to being afraid. Such admissions, as to others of the softer emotions, have never been a matter of shame to women. It is only surprising — and, I think, a matter of no little concern — that the difference between the sexes has grown so narrow when it comes to the visceral masculine reaction to the playground taunt, “Are you afraid?”

But the Washington Post makes it its business to pretend not to know about this difference between the sexes. It sees everything happening on earth from the distant planet of its own multiracial, multicultural, unisex utopia. That’s why another of the great postmodern moments of the past several weeks was the Post’s headline after the first shootings: “5 Shooting Victims Reflect Montgomery [County]’s Growing Diversity.”

Terrorism is called so not because it kills people but because all the people it doesn’t kill are expected to panic at the thought that they may be next. This suggests that the only way to defeat terrorism is by the manly refusal to change any habits, or to admit to fear because some pathetic nonentity like John Allen Muhammad, or Mohamed Atta, wants us to as part of a media-aided demonstration to himself that he is not a pathetic nonentity. Of course it would be too much to expect the press to leave off its endless emotion-mongering and join in this noble resistance.

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