Days after the Tucson shooting, President Obama rode into town on a gooey gel of good will, but by the time the memorial service - or whatever it was - got underway, the president looked rather ill-at-ease. His speech was preceded by several others, including, for promotional purposes, the President of the University of Arizona, which hosted the event, a diversity infomercial in the person of a Native American shaman, the pert student government leader, a current and former governor, and the Attorney General of the US. The gooey gel couldn't contain the crowd, which more than a few times broke out in whoops and cheers.
The only kind of ritual that Americans seem to understand these days is an award ceremony, and that's what the Tucson event most resembled: a fete of congratulation and warm therapeutic self-affirmation. In the aftermath of yet another horrifying milestone event that changes nothing about how we live or what we do, comes the warm soothing anesthetic gel of okay-ness. I know a lot of people felt uplifted by Mr. Obama's remarks. I give him points for venturing out to that politically toxic city (if that's what the agglomeration of strip malls actually is). What he said struck me as not just lacking in an original thought, but filled with something like pre-owned sentiment.
And Mr. Obama looked less than comfortable through the whole gruesome show, as though he sensed there was something off about the vibe in arena, with all its photo-op immediacy that will fade into the cavalcade of a zillion preceding it and countless more yet to come. It all made me wonder: what is the difference exactly between trying to comfort people and making them comfortable? It's normal to want to comfort people who have suffered. But I'm not persuaded that the American public beyond the McKale Memorial Center deserves to feel comfortable about how they are and what they're doing at this moment in history. To me, the ceremony was short on solemnity and decorum, the willingness to suspend comfort for a little while in order to recognize that what happened at the Safeway supermarket was not okay. Even the official moment of silence near the end was too brief, as though they were trying to spare the crowd too much self-reflection.
I wasn't the only person in this country who felt a little jarred by the strange proceedings.
Tuesday, January 18, 2011
American prophet James Kunstler feels 'jarred' by the Tucson memorial event: