Tag Archives: New Yorker

Interview With Adam Lanza’s Father Makes Clear: We Need a New Approach to School Shootings

I’ve been thinking a lot about this interview with Sandy Hook Elementary School shooter Adam Lanza’s father, Peter Lanza, since it ran in the New Yorker a couple of weeks ago. I read about it before I read it, in various articles attempting to summarize its more shocking elements: Peter describing Adam’s crime as “you can’t get any more evil,” or saying he sometimes wishes his son had never been born. But if you read the whole piece, you come away with a much more complex and nuanced picture of what happened in this family, and in a situation which has no easy answers or living scapegoats.

We can speculate — at length — about whether Adam’s parents should have paid more attention or done more. Much has been made of the fact that Adam was prescribed different therapies and even antidepressants, and the fact that both Adam and his mother, Nancy, appeared to be uncomfortable with these options and failed to stick with them. Plenty could also be made of the fact that Nancy kept Peter at a distance after their divorce — a distance he didn’t appear to fight.

But the more I write about these topics, the more I think it’s impossible to determine which one of 100,000 troubled adolescent boys (to pick a random number) — autistic or no, depressed or no, schizophrenic or no, angry or no — is going to plan and commit a mass shooting in a school or elsewhere. Obviously, there are the rare instances where one of them posts or emails a warning, or divulges his plans in a fit of confidence or attention-seeking. But in most cases, even in hindsight, the “warning signs” aren’t clear — or aren’t common only to other fellow perpetrators. They’re qualities other people have, too.

We’re coming up on the 15th anniversary of the Columbine High School killings, and the narrative surrounding that incident is still very similar to the one surrounding Sandy Hook: wayward, perhaps emotionally disturbed teens. Angry music and violent video games. Access to guns. A lack of comprehensive mental-health options. Parents who didn’t recognize the signs that their child might be turning violent, either because the signs were well hidden or because it was difficult to tell those were the ones that would obviously lead to murder. The narrative hasn’t changed because we still don’t have answers, and we may never have the answers we’d need to actually identify potential perpetrators and prevent more school shootings.

Given that, what COULD we do to minimize the number of these incidents, or protect students and school staff if they happen? Much better mental health services, sure. De-stigmatization of mental health issues. Massive amounts of education and outreach for parents of troubled kids. None of this would be aimed at singling out potential perpetrators, but to make sure any kids in this category have a broad and comforting safety net, which is something pretty much all teens need, but particularly those who might otherwise be prone to extreme acts of violence.

What about the guns? Whether or not guns are allowed to minors is almost irrelevant; Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold had an over-18 friend purchase guns for them. Adam Lanza learned his way around firearms from his mother, but he was also 19, a legal adult able to purchase his own weapons, when he committed his crimes. There are Constitutional issues associated with limiting access to guns, and there are varying opinions on gun control, but I think someone who is willing to go into a school and open fire is going to find a way around whatever gun laws we have. We could turn schools into gun-free zones, but there’s likely ways around that.

At the end of the day, the New Yorker article suggests we — Americans, parents, educators, and journalists all included — need to think and write differently about school shootings, the ones that have happened and the ones that have yet to happen.

So. Where do you think we should start?

New Yorker cartoon: the pagan version of blackface


Have we not come very far, or have we gone backward? This cartoon, by Danny Shanahan, appears in the Sept. 24, 2012 issue of the New Yorker.

I was under the impression that society had, to some extent, moved beyond the idea of witches and Wiccans as old, green, scary hags. Yes, the Halloween “witch” lives on — but as a relic of the imagination, not as a representation of a modern-day faith. After all, we’ve had Samantha, Phoebe, Piper, and Prue, and many other portrayals of witches and Wiccans, right? Yes, they were sensationalized and inaccurate, but at least these witches were shown to be powerful, respectful, and human.

The Sept. 24 issue of the New Yorker had a big section devoted to cartoons, especially political cartoons. This one, in particular, is shocking. It’s true that Wiccans adopted the “Yes, Wiccan” phrase — a pun on Obama’s 2008 “Yes, We Can” slogan — and put it on posters, t-shirts, and bumper stickers (though some items murkily seemed to show support for candidate Christine O’Donnell, who claimed she “dabbled in witchcraft.”)

But none of those campaign puns depicted witches like this — undead-looking skin, hands resembling claws, pointy hat, long nose, warts. This is the pagan equivalent of blackface, and it shouldn’t be running in any publication — particularly not one of the New Yorker’s standing.

Over at the Racism School site, they explain some of the reasons blackface is wrong:

* Started at a time when Black people were considered “Less than human”
* Shows Black people have no and deserve no dignity
* Used to de-humanize, belittle and make fun of those that are “Less than”
* Caused (and continues to cause) pain to Black people
* Made black people into caricatures (not human, a symbol to belittle)

Despite the changing face of Wicca in popular culture, it’s certainly not out of the woods, politically or socially. Wicca, as a religion, is still considered less than, or dangerous; its members are targets for moral panics; and the Catholic Church still publishes screeds against Wicca.

As a society, we still need to move forward. With this cartoon, the New Yorker isn’t helping.