I suspect that a good many of them have, and it’s pretty clear to me what “lesson” your typical Women’s Studies prof would draw from the events of that night. Namely, this: the human male, born savage, has been more or less domesticated in most of the countries of the developed world, thanks in large part to their stricter limits on gun ownership and their more feminist-influenced cultures. In America, however, owing to its deplorable Second Amendment and its Wild West mentality, the male of the species remains more untamed – in love with guns, in love with violence. I suspect that in recent days, James Holmes has been cited in a thousand classrooms as a cautionary example of the male as monster: look, even the harmless-looking science nerd can be a mass murderer!
Americans and Europeans alike talk as if America alone had its Columbines and Virginia Techs. Why is it that none of the most recent atrocities of this kind in Western Europe – among them the 2007 incident in which a Finnish student gunned down eight people at his school, the 2009 murder of fourteen people in and around a German school, the 2011 killing of six people at a Dutch mall, not even the mass slaughter in Norway – has acquired a catchy shorthand name like “Columbine”? Why (except for the Norwegian massacre) do they disappear so quickly off the international radar screen? Why are atrocities like Columbine and Virginia Tech always served up as evidence of some deeper malady that afflicts only America, while similar events in other countries are never analyzed in such terms? Can it be that what truly sets America apart is not the frequency of such incidents within its borders but the astonishing degree of reflexive heroism of which its people are capable when faced with such an event?
I wonder: how many Women’s Studies professors have taken time in recent days to consider what lessons the actions of Jon Blunk, Alex Teves, and Matt McQuinn might teach us about the human male – and, in particular, perhaps, about the American male? Might their threefold heroism actually be a symptom of something special and wonderful about America – something that has to do with its history of individualism and self-reliance, of frontier-conquering pioneers and GIs who liberated foreign peoples from totalitarian tyranny? How indeed, one almost wants to ask, is it possible that in a culture suffused with radical-feminist male-hatred and scorn for traditional gender roles that all three of these young men acted instantly to risk their lives for the women they loved?
Blunk, to be sure, was a veteran who wanted to be a Navy SEAL, and whose military training might be credited in part for his spontaneous act of valor. But the others? McQuinn was a clerk at Target. And Teves was a psych student, who in the last couple of years may well have been exposed to even more mindless, male-bashing PC claptrap than I have while working on my book. But all three of them acted like Navy SEALs. They all died proving that they had what Tom Wolfe called the Right Stuff. To what extent was this the result of sheer primitive instinct, and to what extent the product of civilized ethical upbringings? To what extent can it be fairly characterized as distinctly American?
Many Western Europeans, of course, consider themselves more civilized than Americans, and as an example of their superiority they routinely point to their revulsion for gun rights. But at what point in the climb toward true civilization do you start to slide downhill into the slough of decadence? Who is more civilized, the man who stands by passively and impotently while murderous mischief is afoot or the man whose first instinct is to take responsibility – and to take immediate action?
Until not terribly long ago, major works in all the major forms of narrative in Western culture – novels, stories, plays, films – routinely and uncynically held up as heroes men who put their lives on the line for others. Self-sacrifice: this was, ultimately, what it meant to be a man. What, if anything, does it mean that of all the storytelling genres and subgenres – high, low, and in between – that are thriving in today’s postmodern, irony-besotted West, pretty much the only one in which the leading male characters can usually be relied upon to be not just protagonists but real heroes, valiant and chivalrous in the corniest old-fashioned sense, is the action-comic movie – presumably (though I haven’t seen it yet myself) like Batman: The Dark Knight Rises? Which brings us to one last question (for now, anyway): is it fair to wonder what would have happened if a crazed gunman had decided to shoot up a theater in Manhattan – or Amsterdam, or Stockholm – in which people were watching, say, the latest Woody Allen movie?
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