After a tragedy like what happened in Las Vegas, so much gets said and at the same time so little of what needs to get said actually does. As politicians fail to say something that we can get behind, we realize that there are times when messaging fails us, when we shouldn't stick to the script. We want to express genuine sympathy but scripts don’t do that so we’re beginning to see the revolt against the playbook for tragedy. And that’s a good thing. Speaking the truth that we feel is the best way to pay respect to people who lost their lives. Sometimes stammering to say the right thing is the most powerful.
I was struck on Monday by the fact that while elected officials on both sides of the aisle weren’t saying the words so many of us needed to hear, the most unexpected people — comedians and late-night hosts — found their voices. As a recent article in New York mentions, America is now turning to late-night to hear someone’s unfiltered, real thoughts, so we can make sense of these senseless acts.
I’d listened to Jimmy Kimmel’s moving words about his son’s near death experience on his show, and why universal healthcare is so essential, but before that, Kimmel was just the late night host I didn’t watch. But this week, Kimmel stumbled to say the right thing, just like the rest of us find ourselves stumbling. The New York piece said,
“His awkwardness — his voice quavers when he’s angry or upset, he can ramble, and every word isn’t perfectly chosen — is the awkwardness of someone who is awakening to the fact that “politics” can’t be walled off in an area that’s separate from personal experience.”
Kimmel’s monologue highlighted that not only is gun control a non-partisan issue, but if we look at the heroes that rose to the occasion, shielding others with their bodies or driving victims to hospitals, why are we even in a position where all of these heroes need to exist?
An event like Las Vegas happens, where we all see the truth, yet for some reason, on this particular issue, nothing changes.
Another detail from the article that stuck with me was that other late-night hosts, like Conan O’Brien have files for all of their past words on mass shootings. A writer on his show came up to him, and said, “Here are the remarks you made after the Sandy Hook shootings and the Pulse nightclub attack in Orlando.’ …[to which O’Brien thought] That struck me: How could there be a file of mass shooting remarks for a late-night host? When did that become normal?”
Canned responses to mass shootings aren’t normal. Like a good scientist, who makes concrete observations based on what she sees in her microscope, we’re past hypothesis, we’re at the point of concrete conclusions. And so, when a story speaks for itself, we can learn the most from the people who express the hurt and frustration they feel. When we own that frustration for ourselves, when we own the words around our helplessness, we make possible a world that doesn’t normalize mass shootings.