Welcome to the topsy turvy 21st century, where previous values and logic are turned upside down.
When “Alice in Wonderland’s” caterpillar asked Alice who she is, she replied: “I--I hardly know, sir, just at present-- at least I know who I WAS when I got up this morning, but I think I must have been changed several times since then.” And so it goes with the United States these days.
ITEM ONE: In Florida, software engineer Michael Dunn, 47, told his finance “I hate that thug music,” as loud music blared from a car of teens parked next to them. She went into a 7-Eleven to buy wine and potato chips. She heard some loud pops. Dunn had shot into a car of unarmed teens 10 times, killing 17-year-old Jordan Davis. By the time Rhonda Rouer got back Dunn was putting a gun into the glove compartment. The teen’s car had sped off. Dunn and Rouer went to their hotel for rum and Cokes and pizza. When police later detained them, Dunn contended the teens were armed. No gun has been found anywhere.
It would have been an utterly unimaginable crime years ago -- and even more unimaginable that someone could claim self defense using a law that then didn’t exist: Florida’s Stand Your Ground law. But Dunn’s argument is that his life was threatened by a gun no one has yet reported seen or found, and he was standing his ground in self defense.
If it was defensible for adults to shoot dead teenagers who play loud music adults couldn’t stand, then there’d be few adults around today to celebrate the 50th anniversary of The Beatles’ appearance on the Ed Sullivan Show. Will we soon see a “Can’t Stand Your Music” law?
ITEM TWO: Whoever thought popcorn could be considered a lethal weapon? Last month, in Wesley Chapel, Florida, 43-year-old Chad Oulson and his wife Nicole went to the movies to watch a preview of “Lone Survivor.” By the end of night Oluson wouldn’t be one.
Oulson had texted his child’s baby sitter, sparking complaints by 71-year-old retired police captain Curtis Reeves. There was a brief angry verbal exchange. Oulson reportedly threw popcorn at Reeves. Out came Reeves’ gun, and he shot Oulson. “I can’t believe he shot me!” Oulson said as he stumbled before collapsing. Reeves told an off-duty cop Oulson threw something at him and to look at his eye, which showed no marks. His expected defense: the Stand Your Ground law.
Welcome to a century where texting can provoke fatal violence, and popcorn can no longer only make you thirsty: it can make you dead.
ITEM THREE: The good news: vulgarity, crassness and insensitivity have limits. The bad news: they’re alive and flourishing and almost blossoming again. A “celebrity” boxing match set up to pit rapper DMX against George Zimmerman was canceled due to international backlash. Zimmerman was the white neighborhood watch commander who in 2012 shot black Skittles-armed teenager Travyon Martin in Florida. Perhaps Martin would have died sooner if he had been carrying a more lethal weapon -- like Red Vines. Zimmerman had successfully argued that his life had been threatened because the dead-and-unable-to-testify Martin attacked him first.
What’s notable here is that DMX (famous for music) and Zimmerman (famous for killing a teenager) could and would have “earned” big bucks if not for the Internet. Some truly see Zimmerman as a “celebrity.” He has been busy trying to cash in on his (in)famous name by selling authentic George Zimmerman artwork. Any day we might see George Zimmerman shot glasses on Home Shopping Network.
The 20th century gave us monsters such as Adolf Hitler, Joseph Stalin and a host of merciless serial killers and mass murderers. In today’s smaller and larger killings we’re seeing killings that are intensely personal. People killed in a culture increasingly desensitized to violence and the deaths’ impact on the victims’ loved ones. The as cartoonist Walt Kelly’s great Pogo once noted: “We have met the enemy and he is us.” With each passing year, our new century keeps providing us with more evidence.
It sure doesn’t sound like much of an upgrade.
Joe Gandelman is a veteran journalist who wrote for newspapers overseas and in the United States. He has appeared on cable news show political panels and is Editor-in-Chief of The Moderate Voice, an Internet hub for independents, centrists and moderates. He also writes for The Week’s online edition. CNN’s John Avlon named him as one of the top 25 Centrists Columnists and Commentators. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter: www.twitter.com/joegandelman