By Seth Richardson
The blogosphere is aflame with accusation and vituperation flying from left and right over the shooting in Arizona on Saturday. The political punches and low-blows are coming so hard and fast I’m expecting Mike Tyson to show up and bite someone’s ear off at any moment.
So who is responsible for the killing of six people and the wounding of 12 more?
Sarah Palin did this! shouts one. Rush Limbaugh is responsible! cries another. Glenn Beck is dangerous! wails a third. The shooter read the Communist Manifesto, so it’s Francis Fox Piven and the Marxists who are responsible! blurts someone else.
“I think it’s the vitriolic rhetoric that we hear day in and day out from people in the radio business and some people in the TV business and what we see on TV and how our youngsters are being raised!” proclaims Pima County Sheriff Clarence Dupnik in a thinly-veiled swipe at Rush Limbaugh and Glenn Beck.
But who’s to blame, really?
Maybe it’s all Martin Scorcese’s fault. “Martin Scorcese?” you ask, “Why Martin Scorcese?”
Well, perhaps he’s to blame for inciting violent attacks on politicians because he made a motion picture called “Taxi Driver.” After all, this may not be the first time that “Taxi Driver” has been cited as a motive for an attempted political assassination.
In 1981, John Hinckley Jr. tried to kill President Ronald Reagan, and had previously stalked President Jimmy Carter, in a deranged attempt to win the favor of actress Jodi Foster, who played 12-year-old prostitute Iris in the film.
Like Travis Bickel, the lead character played by Robert DeNiro, Hinckley tried to use the murder of a political figure as a way to attain fame…well, perhaps infamy… as a way to rise out of obscurity and fulfill a narcissistic need for attention that had nothing whatever to do with political ideology.
In the film, Bickel’s attempt to shoot a presidential candidate is motivated by his spurned romantic advances towards a pretty young campaign worker, Betsy (played by Cybill Shepherd). Bickel then turns his narcissistic need for attention towards Iris, whom he meets in a chance encounter. Eventually he murders three people, including Iris’s pimp and a corrupt police detective in order to save young Iris from a life of prostitution.
In Scorcese’s film, Bickel escapes justice for his murderous impulses and he’s lionized as a hero because the people he killed were scum. In the real world, Bickel would have been arrested and prosecuted for his vigilante killing spree.
What moral does Scorcese impart to sane persons with this fairy-tale ending? Who knows? What moral does it impart to the insane? Well, in Hinckley’s case, a moral as deranged as his obsession with Jodi Foster.
What about the Arizona shooter? How many times did he watch “Taxi Driver?” Was he motivated to attain the same sort of deranged fantasy fame that Bickel achieved?
Inquiring minds want to know…
If so, is Martin Scorcese now to be held responsible for motivating two political killings? Precisely this charge was levied against him after the Reagan shooting, and the rebuttal is the same now as it was then; No, Mr. Scorcese is not responsible for the deranged fantasies of anyone who happens to watch his film.
Neither are Rush Limbaugh, Sarah Palin, Glenn Beck, Van Jones or Francis Fox Piven responsible for the conduct of people, deranged or otherwise, who listen to them.
Free speech is a dangerous thing, but as a society we value it and protect it because the benefits to be gained by a free marketplace of ideas, no matter how objectionable or inflammatory, far, far outweigh the tyranny and oppression that is required to suppress unpopular or supposedly “harmful” speech.
Just as we must tolerate the existence of firearms in our society because the benefits we reap from an armed citizenry exceed the dangers we face from the existence of firearms, we must tolerate speech that some find “vitriolic” or “bigoted.”
On the other hand, no speech, no matter how vitriolic, hateful or inflammatory, justifies an act of violence by anyone. We will not excuse those who commit violence by shifting the blame to those who advocate violence. All will be held responsible for their own actions.
In this tragic case, the responsibility lies only with a deranged and narcissistic young man who, like Travis Bickel and John Hinckley, decided that a life of obscurity was a poor substitute for an eternity of infamy.
© 2011 Altnews