It's not that unusual for me to find myself stumbling around dazed and confused. I've pretty much had that gait for most of my adult life, at least during those times when PMYS was a contributing factor to my mental sobriety. (For those not familiar with my "Theory of What's Wrong with the Universe", I urge you to take a look at the "little man" drawing labeled "Cautionary Tale for Men" located to the upper right of this post... then go read the PMYS link)
But lately I've been struck by how often I find myself confused by what I'm seeing and hearing. Here's an example:
How has it come to be that the tragic death of a teenaged boy in Florida over a month ago has so preoccupied the talking heads who populate our cable television news shows?
I understand why cable television locks in on the disappearance of a beautiful blond student from an island resort... the cable news reporters get to swarm to a tropical resort. Duh! That explains why Aruba's tourism spiked the last time a partying blonde went missing. A missing inner city child? Not quite as compelling.
But Trayvon Martin was shot dead by a neighborhood watch "Captain" a month ago in Florida, and we can't change the channel to escape that story's morbid coverage. And that coverage has somehow managed to identify two separate camps of American politics, as clearly defined as anything else being argued about on the campaign trail.
You're either convinced that a cop wannabe named George Zimmerman followed, stalked, confronted, and shot dead an innocent black kid, or you're just as equally convinced that a thug of a kid, who was up to no good, assaulted a dedicated public servant volunteer who was forced to shoot and kill an aggressive young man in self-defense. There's very little middle ground if asked about this case.
If you watch Faux News, you lean one way. If you watch MSNBC, you lean the other.
And the sad thing is, because of the nature of the investigation (or lack of investigation) we really don't even know, definitively, what the fuck happened when Trayvon Martin was shot and killed by George Zimmerman.
All we know is that we either don't think the local police in Florida handled the case properly, or that there is no case and we should move on to something else with our national narrative du jour. No gray area. Either this is the murder of an innocent child and is branded on our collective conscience, or we're just willing to ignore the reality that tells us blacks and whites are treated differently by our legal and justice system.
What is it about this case that so clearly defines its audience into one of two political philosophies like it does? Is it racism on display? Is it political correctness and liberal guilt over centuries of racial disparity run amok? Is the Trayvon Martin case a cornerstone moment in America, or just the story that gets us to the next national "Law and Order" episode?
On the surface, I understand why we're fixated on this story. It's a compelling tale, unbearably sad and tragic, and yet, some would say, not all that uncommon in modern America. On the other hand, I'm really torn between wanting to turn away, disgusted by the indignities being foisted upon the families of those involved, and a fascination that makes me want to keep up with every morbid detail in the case.
Here's what I DO think. We would not be talking about a shooting in Florida if Trayvon Martin had been born to white parents 17 years ago. George Zimmerman wouldn't have looked twice at a white kid carrying Skittles and a can of iced tea, whether he was wearing a "hoodie" or Calvin Kleins. This only happened because Trayvon Martin "looked the part" of someone the television shows like to call "a person of interest." And what happened after than initial visual profiling is where the story falls apart. We really don't know what happened. We might never know.
Maybe we're supposed to face this ugliness at this particular moment in history. Who knows? But consider this: while we watch and wait for this drama's next storyline to develop, another might be brewing behind the scenes. How much of a powder keg would America become if this story drags on into the heat of a summer slurry of unemployment, foreclosure, election politics involving a black president and a white opponent, and even one more unforeseen spark?
I don't believe the worst of this has hit the fan yet.
And that's got me as perplexed and confused as anything has in a long time.
Why do I keep seeing the riot scenes from "A Time to Kill" when I think about the Trayvon Martin shooting? Why do I keep hearing the attorney's instructions to the jury: "Now, imagine she's white"?
Why do I have the suspicion this story is but a part of a larger, more profound moment?