Friday, May 22, 2015

The Killing Joke

The Killing Joke is the title of a pivotal Batman comic book in which the Joker bursts into Police Commissioner Gordon’s home and shoots his daughter Barbara – who is secretly Batgirl – permanently paralyzing her. It was a shocking, brutal, heinous act of a depraved heart, worthy of the legislators of Colorado.

You may recall the Joker’s connection to Colorado. As I wrote in my blog entitled The Dark Night Rises on the day it occurred, a murderous sociopath dressed as the Joker walked into a movie theater in Aurora, Colorado and opened fire on the audience viewing the premiere of the Batman movie, “The Dark Knight Rises”. The gunman, dressed in black body armor and a gas mask, lobbed gas canisters into the theater, creating panic and confusion. He then sprayed the trapped movie-goers with a hail of bullets from an array of weapons that included an AR-15 assault rifle, a Remington 870 12-gauge shotgun, and a .40 caliber Glock handgun. Barbara Gordon got off lightly compared to his victims. This pathetic excuse for a human being, truly a waste of his father’s sperm, killed 12 people –  including a four-month-old infant – and wounded 58 others. Today, he is in a courtroom on trial.

Someone else has been in the courtroom throughout the trial with him. Sandy Phillips wears a green scarf to court every day. It belonged to her 24-year-old daughter, Jessica Ghawi… whose brain matter was scattered across the popcorn ridden floor of the Aurora movie theater that day. She’s sat in stoic silence, as her daughter’s friends described her last moments of life before she was butchered in what should have been a safe place: a movie theater. It’s a place where, until now, violence was relegated to the screen, and parents didn’t think twice about their children’s safety. After Aurora, our naïveté was banished. No place is safe. Not even the most prosaic venues that fill our lives: not our offices, coffee shops, shopping malls, or even movie theaters. Not even elementary schools. Parents kiss their children goodbye each morning, not merely because they love them, but because in the back of their mind a small but persistent voice reminds them this could be the day they send their child off to Columbine, or Sandy Hook, or even just the local movie theater.

Jessica’s mother wanted to hold someone responsible. Not merely the obvious perpetrator of the crime, but those she believed had facilitated his murder spree: the Websites that had sold the guns he used to kill her daughter and the others. So Sandy sued them in federal court in Colorado … and lost. You might think that was the end of the story. But you’d be wrong; it was only the beginning.

The gun lobby is a powerful force, both in federal government, and in many states and  state legislatures. In Colorado, the legislature passed a law that applied only to cases brought against gun manufacturers. The statute is called The Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act and provides if the party suing a gun manufacturer or retailer loses the case, then that party is responsible for all the legal fees. So far, the only plaintiffs to have been penalized under this Draconian statute are Sandy and her husband, Lonnie. Senior U.S. District Judge Richard P. Matsch dismissed the case under both Federal and Colorado laws designed to shield gun manufacturers and retailers from liability for injuries caused by individuals who buy their products. But he didn’t stop there. Following the Colorado statute, he ruled that these grieving parents must pay approximately $250,000 to the Websites that sold the guns that killed their daughter.

It sounds like a sick joke. But it’s not. It’s a killing joke. It’s an affront to decency and humanity. It’s a monument to naked ambition and greed that enable lobbyists to buy and sell our legislators like Batman trading cards. It is a sign that our society, now more than ever, truly needs a caped crusader to restore justice. But the Dark Knight is mere fantasy; the reality is that the dark nights that Sandy and Lonnie Phillips, and the other families of the Aurora theater killer’s victims, must face for the rest of their lives are eclipsed by the even darker days brought about by the people whom Colorado voters elected to serve them, but who instead sold their souls to the gun lobbyists.

Friday, May 15, 2015

The Emperor’s Clothes

When I was young, my friends wanted to grow up to be rich and famous. Not me; “I’ll settle for rich and unknown,” I told them. I’m a private person and I value my privacy. As a writer, I may have shared my thoughts when I was younger, and my wisdom (once I had lived long enough to have attained any) now that I’m older, but I've always shielded my personal life from public view. Again, as a writer, I believe it is the content of my words and not the ego of the individual who pens them that should be promoted.

I’m not famous. I’m not a celebrity. And I don’t want to be. Of course, I’d like to have lots of people say they like and appreciate my writing, but understand, there’s a difference between seeking admiration for the product of one’s hard work and effort, and seeking admiration for one’s self as an individual.

I have many younger friends who belong to a different generation from mine. They are part of the social media generation that has adopted Andy Warhol’s famous aphorism that “in the future everyone will be famous for 15 minutes” as its mantra. For these people, becoming famous is the goal, rather than a byproduct of having accomplished something notable. Social media provides them with the tools to achieve this. Self-worth and self-esteem are established, not by what one has actually accomplished, but rather by popularity, which is gauged by how many Facebook friends, Twitter followers, and YouTube views one has.

If my young friend has 3,000 Facebook “friends”, 5,000 followers on Twitter, and 6,500 strangers watching her homemade videos, she believes she is a celebrity. Never mind that practically everyone else using social media can boast the same statistics. In her mind, she is famous and has a following hanging on her every word. When she posts, or tweets, or vlogs, she promotes her expertise on that topic. It might be makeup, or cooking, or marketing, or even writing. She uses social media to spread the word to an ever-increasing audience that she is a famous expert on her chosen topic. Soon, she even believes it herself.

But the truth is, the emperor has no clothes. All these people marketing themselves through social media are actually hyping themselves rather than their slim or nonexistent accomplishments. They call it “building the brand”. It’s a huge ego stroke that makes them feel as though they’re riding on top of the world… Until someone points out the truth: She knows as much about makeup, or cooking, or marketing, or writing, as anyone else. She’s adequate, but certainly not an expert, and famous only in her own mind and well known among a small niche audience.

After such a buildup and such self-delusion, the truth can be devastating to the ego. When she realizes her makeup tips aren't revolutionary, her recipes are only adequate, her marketing skills are no better than anyone else’s, or her writing is mediocre, she will be mortified. Like the emperor who paraded around town showing off his new suit when in fact he was naked the whole time, she too will realize how fraudulent the image of herself she has been promoting truly is.

The Internet is unforgiving. I cringe whenever I see a child sharing his or her god-awful artwork, poetry, prose, or singing online, knowing how embarrassed he or she will be years later upon realizing how terrible their early efforts were and how many people they showed it to. It’s even worse when the person doing the promoting is an adult.

It takes many years of practice before one is ready for prime time. In the pre-Internet days, people had the luxury of time to develop and refine their skills. Today, ready or not, they jump right in, seeking instant fame, fortune, or notoriety. And sometimes, once they realize they can’t live up to their own self-hype, their mortification and depression become so great that they can no longer live with it. They built themselves up to be famous, they told the world how great they are, and now they realize they’re not. And some young people who have everything to live for decide suicide is their only option.

It’s okay to be relatively unknown. It’s okay to do whatever it is you do, no matter how well you do it. But it’s not okay to develop delusions of grandeur and promote them through social media. And it’s not okay to kill yourself when you discover you can’t live up to the unrealistic images you’ve created.


Author Keith B. Darrell has coined the phrase “eStorybook” for individual short stories published in eBook format.

Sometimes you want a full-course dinner; and other times you just want a candy bar. For those times when you can't squeeze in a novel, you can still fit in an eStorybook ... on your smartphone, during a cigarette break, or on the train ride home, you get a complete entertainment experience in a bite-sized portion timed for your busy lifestyle.

Keith's eStorybooks cross multiple genres and are written for varying ages.The stories come in all different lengths - as long as 15,000 words or as brief as 2,000 or less. The wonderful thing about short stories is length is not important (that's why they're called short stories); it's the beauty of the prose and the impact of the story that readers value. And what a value! Every Kindle eStorybook will be priced at 99 cents - the lowest price Kindle allows.

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