“I know. They’re a bad technology.” I said, quoting her. I saw her eyes jump back up to mine. I knew why she felt that way: she was at a heightened risk of dying by one.
“That’s what I said when I was little, and I still think it’s true.” She declared, emphasizing her strong (albeit, rather simplistic) view. “Guns are only made to kill. I know there’s a difference between hunting humans and using one to defend yourself. But even a wimp can hold a gun and suddenly find power within their hands. It gives them the privilege to do what they want since everyone else is so terrified of them. If I pass a random person with one on the street, how do I know they’re not going to shoot me with it? It’s better that they’re less common now.” ”
Rina and Mica in Victim are meant to hold a simplistic (arguably naïve) view. By the time Victim became my main project, I was a college student, although (like most of my projects) I’d started drafting it long before then. I remember editing in student dining at my university, where someone had left the news on the TV. I heard, yet again, of another mass shooting. And I was sick of it.
I remember becoming more politically aware of mass shootings when Sandy Hook happened. I devoured information on the event, trying to understand how someone could shoot elementary school students. This includes President Obama vowing to use all his power to prevent future mass shootings. And that speech he gave asking us to remember the Victims.
For reference, I am an independent politically. Also, Sandy Hook happened in 2012, before I graduated from high school.
And I’m drafting this post not even three weeks after yet another mass shooting has ‘shook’ the United States. This time it was a Walmart in El Paso, not a school. But I still hear the same calls for prayers, scapegoating, and requests to remember the victims.
Well, what about action? I think most people I know have grown numb to it. Or we just throw up our hands and blame the ‘corrupt politicians’ in DC. I understood, even as a student, that this sort of issue requires a complex solution. No one option (‘ban all guns,’ ‘but it’s just common sense,’ ‘pray for America,’ ‘ban X Y Z gun products,’ ‘mental health,’ ‘cultural change’) is a fix all solution. But simplistic views (like Rina’s and Mica’s), although comforting, make people vulnerable. And yet another call to just ‘honor the victims’ rings hollow without action.
That’s a key point: Rina and Mica are supposed to hold simplistic views. I won’t go into spoiler territory here. But, when a gun appears later in the book, the two main characters are especially vulnerable to it. Mica even recognizes this at one point, when he thinks about how vulnerable Rina is. Just fearing something at that level, and then dismissing it as a bad technology, gives them that vulnerability. Also, you may notice that Mica repeats effectively line for line what he learned in school via a control of information act. Sanitizing a topic for students also makes them vulnerable, especially when it comes to violence (and sex, and consent, and religious fundamentalism, and . . . ).
The same is true on the conservative end of the political spectrum. Anger, just like fear, is easy to exploit.
I hate the view that says writers must always be speaking directly to their readers through their work. It makes me feel like I have to second guess myself, filter out any accidental references or criticisms, and achieve a level of perfection pre-publishing that no human can achieve. Effectively, it makes me feel exceptionally unworthy to be writing a book. No matter how much I try to explain something, or account for varying ways of reading it, I am acutely aware that I will fail to anticipate something. Effectively, it makes me more hesitant to write. And I love writing. (Although authors should be held accountable, there comes a point where we have to say, “Stop. Let’s see what they have to say. Let’s look at their intent.” And, although someone can do harm with good intentions, let’s leave space for people to be human. Just look to twitter to see how nasty things can get.)
As things stand now, if I want to play with a concept, then I’ll play with that concept. For example, Victim does include me playing with a concept: The Day of Remembrance. But I’ll get to that later.
So, let’s say you’re reading a short story that gives a gritty, somber view of a pop culture figure. Maybe they’re smiling because they can’t help it, or they’re hiding some existential angst. But when said character starts screaming racial slurs and vulgar words, we don’t think that’s the author calling the reader those things. We think it’s a manifestation of that character’s beliefs and emotions. Just like how a character can hold views specific to that character.
So, let’s jump back. I was editing a scene in student dining when yet another shooting came on the news. I think this one was San Bernardino, but I don’t recall for sure. Not long before that, I had seen the episode of Criminal Minds where they make a big deal out of the media attention. The team had tried to convince the news not to over-report the violence. Instead, Rossi at the end holds up a headline honoring the victims. And the cycle repeats.
Well, I was sick of it. Later, I’d work a while in the public school system. Where I was acutely aware of lockdown drills, shooting threats, security protocols, and the possibility of getting shot. I was only ever in one lockdown (over a medical emergency), but I could still sense the fear that hovered around the subject. Years after Sandy Hook.
But there’s something else I read. An LGBT gun club in (I think) upstate New York was training members of the community in gun-based self-defense. A liberal participant had written online about how this person was confronting their fear of guns. They recognized how their aversion made them vulnerable, and were working to correct that. It was nice to read about someone’s personal experience where they reflected on their beliefs. But ‘both sides’ still often parrot simplistic views.
I personally don’t like guns. This line comes to mind:
“But even a wimp can hold a gun and suddenly find power within their hands.”
And this one:
“If I pass a random person with one on the street, how do I know they’re not going to shoot me with it?”
That is my real opinion. When you get down to the nitty gritty individual level, any weapon holds the potential for violence. Everyday objections, like nail clippers, can even become weapons. But American culture seems to uphold guns. You don’t hear politicians debate about nunchuck attacks. But we are constantly hearing about guns. Well, anyone with an agenda, who gets ahold of a gun (regardless of if they do this legally), suddenly has the power to carry out a devastating act.
And, really, with the culture we live in, if I pass some random person on the street with a gun, how do I know they’re not going to shoot me with it?
The Day of Remembrance in Victim is meant to be greatly over-exaggerated. It’s a way of playing with the absurdity of always just ‘honoring the victims’ without taking action to curb the violence. And, speaking of. . .
I’m well aware of the legacy of science fiction. Plenty of people more eloquent and experienced than me have delved into explaining it. An easy example here is Star Trek. The original series, from the 1960s, includes a diverse cast that can freely interact with each other. In the middle of this is two classic American dudes (Dr. McCoy and Captain Kirk) who interact cohesively with everyone, even an alien. They don’t display bigotry towards their fellow crewmembers (Kirk’s philandering escapades aside). The bigotry that is displayed typically comes from aliens or their own cultural misunderstanding. Said misunderstandings are either admitted to, or visibly a product of that era.
I use this an example because you can see that intent in interviews from the show creators and actors. It’s legacy continues today, with real world impacts like the Roddenberry Prize. But, I also use it because of how much they lack and how far they still have to go. For example (and I have not seen Star Trek Discovery), they are frustratingly lacking in human LGBT representation. There is technically representation, but often in aliens and allegories (like DS9’s S7E4 Chimera episode).
I am not intending to compare my work with Star Trek. But even the best intentions can still misrepresent someone’s experience, be understood differently in a wider cultural context, and get read thirty different ways by thirty different people. Again, I hate the concept that writers themselves must always be speaking directly to the reader. (Seriously, not every story is trying to pound a moral into your brain. Sometimes an adventure novel is just that: an adventure novel. And I think we need books like that.)
Besides, how many times did Captain Picard assist in a forced relocation? Only to backtrack and say what in Star Trek Insurrection?
I hope you get my point.
I’ve gotten more than a few ‘what you hate guns?’ out of people who’ve read Victim. I can see how you’d read that (:whack: I’ll just face palm for a moment). And I initially did consider removing Rina and Mica’s views on guns. I could have left them a blank tapestry in that regard.
But what one character expresses as their experience is meant to be that character’s experience. You may agree with them, you may disagree. I do watch my words, but I do not account for everything. I actually went back and forth for a while on if Rina and Mica should express their opinions. But, ultimately, I chose to leave their views in the book. I chose to let that simplicity make them vulnerable.
You may agree with me. You may disagree.
But so be it.
P.S. I took a break yesterday and played a survival horror PS2 game. The violence in it does not make me want to go steal my dad’s hunting bow and start shooting people. Instead, I consider it an outlet. A way to let out stress. It’s also a convenient way for me to immerse myself in another experience (which is something I find very relaxing). So, can we please stop the ridiculous scapegoating? If you don’t believe me, here’s an interesting read about something else that gets scapegoated: [The Sensory Thrill of Heavy Metal]. And here’s another: [Listening to Heavy Metal May Actually Make You Calmer].
(To anyone who’s curious: I’m playing through the original Devil May Cry. I know Wikipedia describes it as ‘a hack and slash action-adventure video game’, but I die so much in it that it feels like a survival horror to me. Given the atmosphere and aesthetic, I don’t think I’m wrong.)
(Full disclosure: that second paragraph was updated on rerelease. Want to know more? You can read [Looking Back and Looking Forward])