Calling all Theater companies and performers!

Open Call to Theater companies, performers, researchers:
I would like to hear other voices besides my own on this blog. If you'd like to write about your TLP experiences here, e-mail them to me and I'll put them up.
Topics can include dramaturgy to staging to personal responses to the play. Anything goes!

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Specters of Laramie in Tucson, Arizona

Tucson MemorialI had been back on the UW campus for less than twenty minutes when I found out about the Tucson shooting last week.  I was checking the news in the Union building when the alert popped up on my laptop screen.  The next morning, my brother Coyote and I spent most of the morning before I headed to campus and he headed to work watching the press conference.  I only hope that the Tucson community can continue to stand together and support each other as they bury their dead, and that they remain unified in the face of the media speculations about 'toxic rhetoric' and political cheap shots aimed at the other side.

During that same time, I spent a lot of time on the microfilm scanners in Coe Library reading civic commentaries of a different sort, and I started to see discursive echoes of the current Tucson troubles in the Boomerang  and Branding Iron archives.  As journalists and ordinary citizens grappled with the trauma of Matt's beating, I saw them asking similar questions about politics and rhetoric in 1998: to what extent is the national discourse to blame?  How much is the local community to blame?  To what extent should politics and this tragedy coincide in national discussion?  Should political parties be held accountable for their words and policies that might encourage such behavior?   Is the community to blame for the actions of the perpetrator(s), and how should we remember the victim(s)? 
Memorial at Oracle and Ina RD - Tucson Shooting scene
And, now I see that the people of Tucson, Arizona are grappling with similar questions about their identity as a community in the old West.  CNN recently posted an article titled "Tucson Battles Wild West Image After Shooting," looking at everything from the desert landscape and tourist kitsch to the political climate in this Arizona town.  The tone of the article sounds extremely familiar to me:
 ...Tucson sees itself as an oasis of progressivism and diversity in a state that's gotten a national reputation for bigotry and anti-immigrant hate speech. It's the kind of place that hosts mariachi festivals, celebrates Cesar Chavez and asks cars to pull into parking spaces backward, for the safety of bicyclists.  
But after the Democratic congresswoman was shot and six were killed Saturday during a political meet and greet at a supermarket on the northwest side of town, this place of golf courses, taquerias and cactuses started to look at itself anew -- examining not only the causes of the shooting but the borders residents put between each other.  (par. 5-6, emphasis mine)
This same formulation shows up everywhere in the 1998 archives.  This same article on Tuscon even shows the town struggling to understand the shooter's place in their community as well, in almost the same words as Laramie once struggled to place McKinney and Henderson:
[Others] see the accused shooter, Jared Loughner, as mentally unstable. The event, they say, was an aberration -- not a reflection on this unique town, where the hot, dry air attracts arthritis patients seeking relief.
"It's the nicest place on Earth, as far as I'm concerned," said Mark Gardner, a New Yorker who spends the winter in Tucson because of the warm weather. 
Gardner is like many who end up in this city of retirees, immigrants and transplants -- where chain stores are dressed up like pueblos and corduroy-textured cactuses line the roads, their stumpy hands outstretched like hitchhikers. He came to Tucson with romantic visions of the American Southwest.
What he found wasn't far off.  (par. 11-14, emphasis mine). 
There is also speculation about whether or not the society at large should bear some of the guilt for the Tucson rampage, a question which was asked, often unfairly, of Laramie as well.  At the same time, the question itself is legitimate: is there such a thing as social or societal guilt for a member who acts alone?  From a religious perspective, that question has an interesting answer, and one that Stephen Prothero explores in regard to the Tucson killer this week on CNN's Belief blog.  He confesses, "I can't help thinking we have at least a spattering of blood on our hands."  Despite the controversial nature of that comment, I find part of myself wanting to agree with him. Not just about Matt, but about Arizona, too.  Maybe we're all somehow a little more fallen because of what happened, less innocent.  Maybe our social connection to the killer and victims made us all somehow present in Tucson, just as I was once in Laramie, and perhaps that comes with some kind of social or metaphysical guilt attached.  I don't really know. 

So, once again the national discourse is repeating itself, but it has settled upon a new political lightning rod from all the dry, electric static surrounding the nation's new hot-button topic: immigration.  Could the Tucson shooting find itself becoming the next symbol of social turmoil in the national discourse?

I don't really know how to answer that yet, as this story is still just forming, but these events certainly show the same potential for that to happen.  In Laramie, that discourse created an extremely ambivalent response as some people cringed back from the old West motif and claims of intolerance while others took it to heart, indicting the culture.  Some then used that self-scrutiny to make Laramie, and the nation, a better place, and others rejected the notion altogether.

Maybe we know better now how to take these questions, these stories, and use them to create unity and social growth.  Or, maybe nothing's changed.  I don't really know how to make anything positive out of this observation, other than to note how social discourse and national memory seems to be following the same pattern.  What will be the outcome for national discourse, and what will happen to the Tucson community? 

PHOTO CREDIT: Images of the spontaneous memorial at Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords' office and at Oracle Road, Tucson, Arizona. Taken by Search Net Media, available via Flickr.

No comments:

Post a Comment