Jennifer Brown – Hate List

תוצאת תמונה עבור ‪jennifer brown hate list‬‏

Whenever the subject of school shooting rears its head, someone has to point out that it’s a topic for overly-privileged kids. The mere act of talking about privilege in this context is a display of a lack of empathy, not a clever critique of society. It also misses the point, and why school shooting became so iconic. To understand that you have to understand what a terror attack is.

A terror attack isn’t one where people simply get hurt. Killing isn’t even the main objective. Terror is communicative violence, its purpose is to attack an icon and make everyone connect that icon to the event. Notice that the most famous terror attacks are always connected to a major place. The twin towers aren’t just big, but in an iconic place in an iconic city. The purpose was to make us always fear whenever we’re near that ground, and many will be near that ground since it’s so iconic. Terror attacks are meant to devastate us, to cause emotional damage far beyond the initial event.

Jennifer Brown generally takes the well-worn narrative of the school shooting, that of a bullied kid having his revenge on the world. Consciously or unconsciously though, she’s aware of the meaning of a school shooting, its similarity to a terror attack. Her book isn’t so much about bullying but about the devastating effect of a tragedy.

Although written in the typical form of a Young Adult novel – minimalist, first-person, a whole lot of reflection and emotional confession – the book tries to break outside its main character’s head. In the end of the novel Brown wrote this was Valerie’s story, and the structure may fit this but the content doesn’t. She’s a character as much as she is a window for us to witness the effect of tragedy on people.

Thankfully, Brown tries to grasp the complexity and psychology in the fallout of tragedy. Everyone reacts differently. Some stick to their old ways. Others radically change it. Some are angry, others become forgiving because what’s the point? Tragedy doesn’t make us into angelic beings. You actually can’t predict what tragedy will make of us.

Brown doesn’t manage to capture it with enough complexity to have impact. Only in the end there is a truly profound moment, one where the fragility of being human is captured. A short inscription on the grave of the shooter gets it. His grave is pushed aside with a small epitaph because he is the killer after all, but the killer had a mom who loved him after all. It echoes Susan Klebold’s article, or any interview with a parent of a killer. Victims had families who will never be the same again, but the killer also had a family who loved him.

A good chunk of the book is about this, about carrying on knowing the person you loved is a killer. I wish Brown would’ve delved into this dilemma more deeply, but then again this is extremely difficult. The highlights are the moments where Valerie is allowed to reminisce about the good times, and where she’s trying to connect what she knew of Nick to the violence. In these moments, despite the lack of character development, she finds some emotional punch.

Like many a Young Adult novelists, Brown’s characters are driven by emotion, not a psyche that’s unique to them. She has enough empathy that her characters react in various ways. Even the assholes who don’t change, who become more asshole-ish still come off as human being. Their point of view is there in front of us. Sure, it sucks for Valerie, but it also sucks for the father. His character is the most interesting since he’s supposed to be the least sympathetic – the father who abandons his family for a younger woman. His behavior never goes against this archetype, but in subtle moments we’re allowed to understand him and why he’d go after someone younger.

The portrayal is complex because of the variety of reactions. The problem is these are just reactions floating around, not tied to anything. Those few who get developed don’t end up as anything interesting. Nick is a typical sexy outcast – thin, listens to Rock music and can quote Shakespear. Bullying in this novel isn’t quite convincing, since Nick too often plays like a sexy mysterious guy. It’s not overdone, but nothing about him is especially weird. Bullies seek the weirdo, the one who isn’t flamboyent, doesn’t rebel and doesn’t have anything to offer but weirdness.

Likewise, it’s hard to think of what we learned about these characters. They’re human enough, but the complexity is too vague. It’s all outlines which are good enough, but I’m left here constructing their psyche. For once, minimalism betrayed the story. This story needed some inspiration from Dreisser, long slow moments that show who they are beyond the tragedy. Brown focuses so much on the effect of tragedy she creates people who have no lives outside of the tragedy. It’s only half the work.

It’s a shame, because otherwise Brown proves to be more capable than her peers. YA has a lot of talented writers, but they capture the spirit, the energy of youth without enough depth. These are enjoyable books, but mostly as research material before you write your own. Brown does a little better by widening her perspective, and so the novel is not just the story of Valerie but of everyone and how they deal with grief, how they cope with the tragedy. If only we could get a little deeper underneath these reactions, if only we could hear more than just their voices but let us walk in their shoes. I can’t tell if Brown doesn’t try or is just in incapable, but widening her reach is enough to give this novel extra emotional punch.

Hate List is not a total classic in the genre, but it deserves some respect in it. Many authors could learn from Brown’s wide reach, and the topic of school shooting gets a respectful treatment for once. Perhaps Brown is not just good enough to reach those heights, but she knows which mountains to climbs, what to do and so the novel has far more good in it than bad.

3 out of 5

Joking About Ariana Grande’s Terror Attack: A Few Scattered Thoughts

Irony culture is polluting the internet. Everywhere you go you see its tentacles, taking every good thing and getting ironic over it. As if saying something ironically is automatically a joke. Anyone remember those eyes when everyone was sarcastic all the time, as if that meant they were ‘tough’ or you were stupid for not reading between the lines? The internet’s irony culture of ‘shitposting’ is its heir. Like any major event, the terror attack on Ariana Grande’s concert became a canvas for these people to launch their jokes from. Actually, events like these – horrible, traumatic, death-filled – tend to be their favorite events.

Now, gallows humor is fine and all. Humor is important. It helps us keep a distance from things and break the ring of sacredness. If we can laugh at something, it’s not holy and we can criticize it and improve on it. Nothing should be beyond humor, but nothing is also beyond criticism. So now I’m about to explain why all these jokes about the terror attack are bad. Some people from the Irony Culture will call me ‘oversensitive’. I will call them ‘oversensitive’ for not being able to present a claim of their own.

I don’t know how to make this any clearer. A terror attack is traumatic. Many people will never be the same after this. It changed their lives forever. The songs and the artist will forever be connected in their heads to an attack whose purpose is to install fear and dread in them. 22 people have died, and that means at least 88 – and I’m being extremely minimal here – will live with a permanent loss nothing can replace.

Just to show you how trauma works, I live in Israel. Many here live under constant thread of rockets and are always afraid of the sound of the alarm. Some time ago there was a Post-Apoc LARP (Live-Action Roleplaying) called Sunburn. The organizers didn’t tell the players that there will be alarms. Not only the fictional alarms triggered these people, many also thought they were real. It wrecked their whole experience.

If you still don’t get what ‘trauma’ means, just ask someone to violently beat you up.

As I said, humor about anything is fine. However, we need to be careful when and where we post our gallows humor. Right now, when we’re still suffering from the fallout of that attack is not the time. That attack is fresh in people’s minds. They still need to truly realize that, yes, this happened and they are mortal and someone can blow them.

The internet is an unregulated mass communication tool that must not be censored, but that’s not a reason to spread it all over. We control the content we see only halfway. If I enter a meme site with hoping to manage my stress thanks to surviving a terror attack and I see memes about a terror attack and all the trauma rises up – who’s to blame? Why must it be this way?

Some did get that perhaps it’s nicer to wait a bit before making fun of other people’s trauma, so even that became a joke:

Another important element of gallows humor is that you need a joke. Without saying something actually funny about the subject, all you do is make fun of dark topics which cause pain and suffering to everyone – including you. There is no joke in this picture, unless the joke is about how memesters don’t have anything else to do but produce worthless memes. Then again, I think they’re too sensitive to actually joke about themselves.

I don’t know. I get it that you don’t like Pop music. Some of us are still stuck in the days of ‘real music’ where only Foo Fighters were considered good. Still, where’s the joke here? You found a pseudo-clever way of telling people you dislike Ariana Grande by making fun of a terrible event. I’m not sure how else to classify this behavior other than being an asshole and inconsiderate.

Oh man, I can’t help it. This is Dr. Strangelove-level of funny. Get it? The joke is, Grande is a horrible singer (Pop music isn’t real music, remember) and people dying – especially in terror attacks – is funny! Death is so funny, in fact, that we make sure everyone can experience it if they want to using assisted suicide! Aren’t funerals only second to the Holocaust in their funny-ness?

It’s kind of odd. Someone would actively take an image and write a semi-ironic text about how someone not dying is a bad thing. I’m trying to understand the psyche of doing this, of finding the bummer over someone not-dying a sentiment worth showing the world. Better yet, contextualize it in a meme so you could laugh about it and be ironic. There are so many layers of irony here I’m not sure what the joke is. Yes, some memes’ source of funny is only because they reference a pattern. Lord knows I find the ‘cracking open a cold one’ meme hilarious, but that’s only because I really like beer. Besides, the joke is rarely something cruel. Since there is no funny here, what is the joke?

“Oh, lighten up!” they say and I wish I could – or I wish I wouldn’t, since my ways of having include more than finding terror attacks funny. Every act of communication has a purpose. The nature of being is communicative. We communicate humor, emotions and ideas. By understanding what and why we communicate we can communicate better and face the communication of others better.

So I’m trying to get underneath all this humor. Since its surface is incredibly unfunny, maybe by getting down to it I can find insight into an alien culture. Sadly I face an empty well devoid of funny and full of laughter at the theatre of tragedy and the carnival of carnage that is terror and violence. If terror and violence were that funny, they wouldn’t be staples in horror films. Moreover, if you didn’t view this post as an attack – and this post claims you’re insensitive, unethical and that your sense of humor is dead like Nietzsche’s horse – you wouldn’t get all defensive over it.

The funeral of the irony culture will be a celebration. Bring your own stereo.