I was born there. It was a hardscrabble place to live, strange growing up there in the nineteen-sixties when the mills were on their last legs. We were fortunate, my parents and me, in that we moved away before the mills’ collapse. I went back to go to school for a while, taught there briefly, and loved the place as home, but earning a living as a writer just wasn’t possible then. Still, I loved Pittsburgh and always will.
I knew a high-school student there, let’s say his name was Tom. He was a perfectly nice kid, not an especially good student but affable. He had a Metallica fixation and wanted to play drums like Lars Ulrich but for a malformed, withered arm, something that had happened to him at birth. A couple of years passed between the time I left the school and the next time I saw Tom, this time on a PAT bus in town. He’d had an obvious growth spurt—he was well over six feet tall and, bad arm or no bad arm, he’d be hard to deal with in a fight.
And then I noticed his hair, or lack of it. A theme to his tattoos. Skinhead.
He proceeded to tell me a long and disturbing story about his involvement with the Nazi skin “movement,” knowing I’d disapprove but he was determined to state his case, as though somehow he was going to win me to his side. Tom didn’t have to tell me how it all came to be. Older kids whom he respected got him into it, and he stayed because it was the one place where he felt kinship in damage and rage. It wasn’t a surprise, but all the same I blamed the people who introduced him to this in the first place.
Of course, there was nothing I could have done to change Tom’s thinking. There still wouldn’t be.
Poplawski (http://www.post-gazette.com/pg/09095/960750-53.stm) is another such person, driven by rage over circumstances he can’t control. But he knows there are people who agree with his worldview and he knew where to find them on the Web. And then there’s Glenn Beck; please read http://mediamatters.org/columns/200904070009?f=h_top for as inclusive an argument against Beck as I’ve yet seen). After all his crying and posturing, he’s now saying he couldn’t possibly be an influence on these murderers. “I’m just a circus entertainer,” he recently said.
Bullshit. He’s an abetter. Likewise O’Reilly. Likewise Limbaugh. Likewise Wayne LaPierre. To these men, it’s all a football game—not just who wins, but how much smack each side can lay down, how badly one team can punish the other. And in the end, folks, it’s all about ratings and the God-Almighty demo. You and I don’t matter as individuals; you can hear and read about the exchange between Limbaugh and a veteran at the link above; I’m grateful to that caller, I really am, for saying it straight to Limbaugh, and in the process forcing Rush-bo to reveal more—far more, I think—about his real feelings toward his listeners than he ever wanted to betray. Let’s face it. He milks them like cows, or an evangelical flock. Now we know.
People like Poplawski follow the Limbaughs and Becks of this world out of terror, a need to be accepted despite the damage that’s occurred in their lives. And that makes them that much more open to coercion. And because of that, Pittsburgh buries three cops, there are funerals in Binghamton, fresh graves dug in Knoxville not too long ago for victims of a church shooting (remember, their killer said that because he couldn’t kill the people on Bernie Goldberg’s list of liberals, he’d massacre a congregation of Unitarians).
Glenn, Rush, Bill, Wayne and the rest, you will never wash your hands clean of this. Never. I await daily your decline and fall.