David B.




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August 6, 2009

America’s Consumer Culture: Manufacturing White-Guy Madmen


Just a little over 25 years ago, a faceless and anonymous loner named James Huberty opened fire in a busy McDonald’s restaurant in San Ysidro, California, indiscriminately killing grandmothers, schoolchildren, infants and employees in a single afternoon’s eruption of white rage. Convinced that “Mexicans” were to blame for his chronic joblessness and most recent dismissal from a lowly security guard position, this socially impotent, dull-witted angry white loner catapulted himself from anonymity to infamy with a single barbarous day’s work.


Huberty was not the first of his type. That distinction falls to one Howard Unruh, who, having returned from World War II to find himself spurned by a succession of romantic interests, gunned down 13 of his neighbors in 12 minutes in 1949.


At college campus bell towers, cafeterias, post offices and elsewhere, there have been many others, before and since, the most recent being a racist, misogynist loner by the name of George Sodini at a Pennsylvania fitness center: Angry, sexually frustrated white guys fueled by an unswerving belief that the world had done them wrong, that they were not living the lives of entitlement that they felt they deserved, and determined to make others pay for their own failure and frustration.


Each such senseless eruption of white guy rage is invariably met with televised handwringing, calls to pass gun control legislation and Monday-morning-quarterback psychoanalysis of the latest lone nut to cut down whatever number of his fellow citizens. Absent is any serious attempt to identify an underlying causality, or to stem such future attacks before they occur. It is comforting to maintain the superstition that each similarly-styled killing spree is just an aberration, an unexplainable glitch in the otherwise seamless functioning of a well-ordered society.


Conversely, it is horrifying to recognize the fact these monsters are a natural, inevitable byproduct of American consumer culture, and that the Jim Hubertys and George Sodinis are manufactured just like piston rods on an automated assembly line.


Whatever their state of residence, whatever their stated rationale for wholesale slaughter, the spree killers seem to share some common psychological touchstones: All were economic failures; all had a history of “issues” with women; all had experienced a sense of rejection by society at large; all expressed a perceived powerless to change their personal circumstances; and, perhaps most notably, all felt that they deserved more. The word deserved is of key importance in this context. Depression has been defined as being the difference between a person’s expectations and actual circumstances. In the case of those whose expectations were for lives of comparative ease – easy money, easy career tracks, easy access to women, easy attainment of positions of power and prestige – adjustment to the reality of life as a maladapted failure could be expected to be particularly painful.


Women, African Americans, gays and immigrants haven’t made reputations as spree killers. For those subjugated to the will of a dominant class, a highly developed sense of entitlement isn’t as pronounced as it tends to be within that dominant class – white males. Consequently, there is less of a schism between expectations and realities for those who do not attain – or expect to attain – the corporate VP position, the suburban McMansion, the trophy wife and mistress.


As the case of George Sodini shows, there are a lot of white men in America, though, who still believe that they’ve got it coming – and if they don’t get theirs, they’ll see to it that you get yours. They may not shoot up the nearest restaurant or fitness club, but they’ll join militias or supremacist groups, scream their opposition to health care or welfare, join a minuteman group to guard the Texas border against immigrants, or otherwise do their best to ensure that no matter how low they slip on the social totem pole, they’ve always got their boots planted firmly on the faces of somebody else a rung below them.


So long as the cultural milieu keeps reinforcing the not-so-subtle message that they deserve whatever they desire by virtue of their race or gender, and so long as they remain thwarted in those desires, they’ll keep stamping as hard as they can –and now and again, one will explode, and a group of random strangers will pay the price.


© 2009 North Star Writers Group. May not be republished without permission.


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