“I am the shooter!” Oregon mall gunman Jacob Tyler Roberts reportedly shouted as he opened fire. He did so as if he’d just reached the top level of an Xbox game. Roberts wasn’t playing a game, though: his actions were a Schizoid’s demand for attention. But Xbox or no, in his mind, he won.
I figure that at the rate America is crankin’ out these sick, dumb animals, it won’t be long before “Shooter” becomes even more aspirational. Of course, nobody aspires from childhood to kill themselves after spraying a Banana Republic with bullets, nor has any job application yet been written for a Highway Sniper. Yet Roberts wanted us to know he was in charge, if only briefly. Per his announcement, he’d achieved his “be all you can be” moment.
Welcome to the real Tomorrowland, where basic job application categories may soon collide horrifically with the mental distortion of dumbed down America. This is where “shooter” can substitute for “teacher,” “bus driver,” or “dentist,” because gaining notoriety — in this case for shooting up a food court — has essentially become a viable version of the American Dream.
A good example of how we reached Tomorrowland is the reality TV to which, week in, week out, we surrender. We give ourselves to programs where rivalries are created from staged and edited social situations, where the losers are snubbed and winners lavished with prizes and recognition. We’re told it’s real, and we believe it. I’ve believed it.
Most Americans have an opinion on these shows and their characters, and many secretly wish for the chance to avenge their lesser favorites, confront these silly marionettes, or collect the paydays that they see. But in barely noticed, incremental ways, we take these standards and values out into the world. We judge others and measure our own happiness by them; in effect we live by them, or rather under them. The problems these issues make for employers and educators is mind-bending. In fact, if one squints hard at the horizon, it’s possible to see a total social breakdown looming.
In Tomorrowland, health professionals can’t keep up with the mass mental distortion emanating from the basement level standards typified by politicians or our Lohans, Biebers, and Honey Boo Boos. We hide in the disconnection of Facebook and relish Attention Deficit Dependency. We’ve ultimately become so afflicted with vicious narcissism that, at least in Jacob Tyler Roberts’s case, the “next level” is death.
This desperate need for recognition, the expectation of media attention, and a national obsession with rewarding Jackass-style stupid human tricks conspire to funnel society toward choices we’re clearly not equipped to confront. But when low or unchallenged emotional intelligence and nonexistent coping skills co-mingle in the pressure cooker environment of economic meltdown, the resulting sense of “nothing to lose” is something to fear far more than an America in which global warming turns us into cannibals or Christians.
We know today that Jacob Tyler Roberts could have taken things a lot farther. He’d been carrying multiple magazines of ammo and knew how to un-jam his stolen rifle. Perhaps, though, after killing two people and critically wounding a third — after emptying one or more magazines at anyone in his line of fire — he was done. He’d arrived. His cry of “I’m the shooter!” was simply his way of ensuring we’d know he won (the contest of his own understanding).
It’s depressing that Roberts and his kind are now coming at us in waves. They’re also the “hordes” of which Americans should be most afraid.