It’s been more than one week since the horrible atrocity in Tucson, Ariz., and all I can think about is This is Spinal Tap.
Tap pioneered the “mockumentary” genre. It follows the 1982 summer tour of Spinal Tap — known as “Britain’s Loudest Band” — in support of their newest album, “Smell the Glove.” Early in the film, a record label executive angrily confronts Spinal Tap’s manager over the band’s original proposal for “Glove’s” cover art. After Tap’s manager claims not to have the slightest idea why anyone thought the original art was sexist, the label executive erupts:
“You put a greased, naked woman on all fours with a dog collar around her neck, and a leash, and a man’s arm extended out up to here, holding onto the leash, and pushing a black glove in her face to sniff it! You don’t find that offensive? You don’t find that sexist?”
In a similar, angry vein, it didn’t take more than an hour or two for most Americans to draw a connection between Jared Loughner and the Republican campaign strategy after the 2008 election. Exhibit A, of course, was a map of vulnerable Democratic congressional incumbents that was created by former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin’s political action committee. The districts were marked with crosshairs. Pundits connected the dots — and there were really only two dots necessary — and concluded that even if Palin herself didn’t pull the trigger, she was an accomplice.
I think that’s an irresponsible conclusion. It’s irresponsible now, and it was irresponsible when Tipper Gore, former wife of vice president Al Gore, used the same argument to try to ban Prince from record stores 25 years ago. It’s irresponsible to say that Grand Theft Auto has created murderers, Black Sabbath is guilty of driving someone to suicide and 2 Live Crew is single-handedly responsible for America’s decaying moral fabric.
This belief is supported by scientific research and the scope and scale of the hypocrisy it would take to believe any differently would alone make this belief stronger for me. I have at least three Notorious B.I.G. albums on my iPod right now. Between Biggie and Stringer Bell, I know just about all you need to know about how to run a successful crack ring, and so far I’m not running one. So I can’t blame Palin, or anyone else for that matter, for Loughner’s actions, and I can’t imagine having to defend myself against that criticism.
But of course, the story doesn’t end with criticism of Palin. Maybe there’s a universe in which she could act like a leader and apologize for SarahPAC, but also reject any responsibility for the Tucson tragedy. We don’t live in that universe. Instead, conservative activists started combing the Internet to see if there were any Democrats who could be tarred with the same brush.
We’ve all been there — if you get hit with a phantom foul, then you start working the refs to get a make-up call on the other end. Sure enough that’s what Republicans did. It turns out that President Barack Obama mentioned “bringing a gun to a knife fight” on a campaign stop during his 2008 campaign. And someone managed to unearth a Democratic Leadership Committee that identified its own 2004 “targeting strategy” — districts that voted narrowly for George W. Bush in 2000 and were plausibly trending toward the Democrats — with little concentric circles of their own.
Never mind that the “knife fight” line is taken from a 30-year-old movie or that the DLC map placed targets over entire states, not individual districts — or that they were targets, not sights — that would get in the way of how things are done, which is to take whatever people are saying about you and Google furiously until you find a spurious equivalency on the other side. There’s a word for all of this, by the way. It’s called “tattling.”
But that’s not why I’m reminded of This is Spinal Tap. I’m reminded by Palin’s backup plan, which was to pretend that the SarahPAC map didn’t even have crosshairs on it at all — and shame on you for suggesting otherwise. Not only does violent rhetoric have nothing to do with Jared Loughner, it actually has nothing to do with violence in the first place.
Understood. Spending two years telling people to “take aim” and “reload” at people marked by gun sights for having the temerity to not want to spend one-sixth of our total economic output on health care has nothing at all to do with violence. Just like putting a naked woman in a collar and leash on an album cover has nothing to do with sexism.
Neill Mohammad can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.