It did not take long for me to turn off Twitter, to shut down Facebook, to ignore NYTimes.com. The Internet can be marvelous—for real-time presidential debate snark or instant updates on the latest Lindsay Lohan trainwreck—but for tragedy, it is entirely too small. I could not bear to watch the reported death toll rise, to see the hand-wringing that came when the press realized it had misidentified the shooter, or to wade through the now-predictable howls for stricter gun control. So I did the natural thing. I turned off my computer, and started watching movies.
I watched Harper, a middling Paul Newman P.I. flick, the ever-delightful Shop Around The Corner and, at my girlfriend’s stern insistence, Love Actually. During the intermissions, I glanced at Twitter for news of the impending R.A. Dickey trade, taking pains to avoid reading about anything of actual importance. For seven or eight hours, Paul Newman chewed gum, Jimmy Stewart sold music boxes, Hugh Grant made puppy dog eyes. And the outside world stayed far outside.
A hot bath might do the trick, but it lacks the escapism and entertainment value of my preferred preferred prescription: Turner Classic Movies, a 24-hour, commercial-free hot water bottle. At moments of crisis, how nice to slip into a perfectly-crafted Hollywood picture, where The End only means I’m seven or eight minutes away from another round of opening credits? Spy novels, adventure stories and Horatio Hornblower books can all serve the same purpose, but nothing seizes your attention like the well-mannered bray of Katherine Hepburn. If the afterlife is TCM, well, I could imagine worse.
I hadn’t forgotten what happened in Connecticut, but I was waiting for the next day’s Times to learn the details. As a gauge of a tragedy’s importance, the front page of the paper of record is hard to beat. How many inches did they give it? Does the headline stretch the whole page? How many days does it stay above the fold? When the unfathomable happens, this is my coping mechanism, and it’s one of the best of my ever-dwindling arsenal of answers to the question, “Why do you still subscribe to a daily paper?”
Any newspaper works. Glancing at the covers of the Post and the Daily News each morning is a marvelous way to close the book on whatever troubled the world the day before. On Saturday, I saw a man searching a USA Today for their write-up of the shooting, growing increasingly confused until he realized that they publish their weekend edition on Friday morning—making for a front page that was hopelessly out of date just a few hours later. Print still has its drawbacks
Information blackout, movies, the morning paper. This is my three step routine, my palliative care. After the Javon Belcher shooting. After Aurora. After Tucson. After Malmö. After Virginia Tech, and all the unfortunate others in between. I felt guilty for avoiding the onslaught of real-time truth until I realized that, as a coping mechanism, waiting 24 hours is healthier, or at least more dignified, than taking to the Internet and screaming inanities about gun control, mental illness, even who the real killer was.
It only takes a few minutes for a national news event, good or bad, to turn social media into an echo chamber. Internet discourse is like a dorm room bull session, which gets louder and dumber with each new person who squeezes in. There is a conversation to be had in this country about guns, about mental health issues, about media malpractice, but the hour after a massacre is not the time to do it, and Twitter is not the place.
Reasonable people understand this, but when confronted with this sort of horror, they retreat the same way I do—taking shelter not with Jimmy Stewart, but in the well-worn rut of liberal indignation. Thinking that gun violence could be solved if the Republicans had the balls to tell the NRA to take a hike is comforting, because it creates a fantasy where violence can be solved. Pretending that the solution to this epidemic of mass murder can be summed up in 140 characters is as absurd as thinking Love Actually is a good movie.