Through the glass darkly

Over the past year and pouring through every screen available, has been an unrelenting cascade and a succession of horrors, each in their own right worthy of the term “evil.”


At midnight last summer, on July 20th in Aurora, 12 people were killed and 58 others wounded by alleged shooter James Eagan Holmes during a premiere of “The Dark Knight Rises.” I blogged about it at the time, saying, “…a memory of carnage now forever mars the movie.”


Yet just as that gash began to heal, but before the year was out, Sandy Hook happened with Adam Lanza gunning down 20 little children, six adults and his own mother before blowing his own brains out.


Then in quick succession, we had The Boston Marathon bombing killing 3 and injuring 264 many with blown off legs followed by last week’s sickening depravity out of Cleveland, where after being held captive, raped and beaten Amanda Berry, Georgina “Gina” DeJesus and Michelle Knight were rescued from a living hell along with Berry’s six-year-old daughter.


Of course thousands of crimes and murders occur every day, but these took off across the heavens and onto every electronic medium, accelerated by a media that turned them from localized tragedies to hyper-evil, global spectacles.


To an enlightened readership, a word like “evil” might smack of the superstitious and medieval. Evil evokes something otherworldly and mysterious⎯something belonging to eternity. Perhaps to a sophisticated, hip crowd, evil may even conjure up memories of The Church Lady on “Saturday Night Live.” But, if evil is too strong a word to describe acts like these, terms such as “wrong” and “bad” seem far too weak and temporal to encompass their significance. Moreover, when children are the victims, how can one call it by any other name?


In his book of essays on the subject, “Evil: An Investigation” Lance Morrow, the longtime contributor to Time wrote, “It is part of the nature of evil that it is inexplicable. It is felt rather than understood: “I know it when I see it.” He goes on to say, “Better to say: I know it when I feel it. Evil registers itself upon the deepest, most primitively feeling areas of the brain…”


Today we feel it through the looking glass on the screen. Indeed we see the entire world through some device and over the last year, our senses have been on overdrive. Evil has become commonplace but by being so ubiquitous, it risks losing its edge. Morrow writes, “Evil plays with mirrors in order to confuse the mind and erase distinctions between itself and good. Evil is a hall of mirrors⎯distorting mirrors, hallucinatory and holographic.”


When I teach seventh graders about the Holocaust and they see the black and white film footage, each year it looks more and more distant.


In her controversial study of Eichmann, Hannah Arendt coined the term, “the banality of evil.” Yet with today’s always on world of technology, the lens by which we view the latest tragedy in the world turns from banality to constancy. It’s as if our eyes are cut wide open every time we are met with each heinous act.


It’s not the fault of media outlets that deliver the horrors, as they are simply reporting news that the public wants (demands) to receive, but the speed and flow is on steroids pounding us. While the nature of reporting is to probe and investigate, our ravenous appetite for every morsel of info has us demanding more and more bytes of it, like a junkie on an IV tube. We’re addicted to the cable TV wire.


Moreover, when horrifying events become epic in their depravity, the “breaking” of news becomes an overwhelmingly powerful force. It shatters the glass we observe it through. We witness it on our side of the mirror and when it cracks forth, the detritus from the break surrounds us, rips us in a million particles.


In popular culture, evil often has to take on a personality in order to be felt and understood. It’s melded onto a face that allows us to try and peer into its soul. The villain in “Iron Man 3”, for instance, is an actor hired to play that very part and isolate and contain evil as an image onscreen.


Yet something about the real nature of evil remains inexplicable, whether we look into the blank stare of Adam Lanza, the possessed beam of James Eagan Holmes or the morose gaze of Ariel Castro.


The thought mechanism (if one can call it that) that plans and carries out carnage and horror on such a scale is irrational which is why we exile it to a separate supernatural realm. Yet, with technology and science it becomes normalized, familiar and constant. Evil has become ordinary.


Abe Novick is a writer and communications consultant.