Artist Roland Barthes once said “Trauma is a news photo without a caption.” He’s wrong, of course. After the events of July 20th in Aurora, Colorado we’ve been bombarded with an endless torrent of news photos, broadcasts, blogs, and opinion pieces about the actions of James Holmes, their impact, and its significance in the debate of violence in pop-culture. We’ve got plenty of photos, plenty of captions, and the trauma is very, very real.
You see, I have a unique insight into comics and violence. As a comics creator I have written war stories, violent stories, and I’ve even had an opportunity to play in the streets of Gotham City. But unlike my fellow writers and artists, at age nineteen I nearly died when a lone nut with a gun put a bullet into me.
For more details regarding the incident you can read this article published in Riverside’s Press-Enterprise newspaper [link]. But all you really need to know is on a summer day in 1995 a man I’d never met believed he had the right to enforce his own brand of “justice”. Because he disapproved of how a friend of mine was driving, this man put a 9mm round through my back, which busted a rib and became entangled in my intestines. I was lucky to have survived.
Now with the media abuzz about the latest Colorado shooting, and once again blaming everything from pop culture to atheism for the tragedy, I find myself taken back to those days and weeks after my own personal trauma. From my hospital bed I recall a lot of people telling how I should view what’d happened…
I was told I lived because God still needed me on Earth.
I was told I’d taken the bullet because I was an atheist and therefore didn’t receive “the good lord’s protection.”
I was told I was living proof gun control laws weren’t strict enough.
I was told if only I had a gun, I could have defended myself.
And when I left the hospital it only got worse. I heard more about god and gun laws and all the things I should think. I encountered people who were certain I “must have deserved it, or it wouldn’t have happened.” Surely I was in the wrong part of town, or wearing the wrong type of clothes, or perhaps listening to the wrong kinds of music. And worse were the overwhelming number of individuals who automatically assumed the shooter had to have been a young, poor, black male.
Here are the facts. The man who shot me was white, a father of two, a Born Again Christian, and an aspiring cop who had failed to make it on the force. I was shot in my own neighborhood, an upper-class suburb of Riverside, in the middle of the day. And my clothes? In those days I was looking pretty goth.
My point is, I was the one who took the bullet. I was the one who nearly died. My trauma is real. My memories are forever scarred. And yet very few people actually wanted to hear what I had to say. From all avenues everyone was so eager to fit me in their own world view, then want me to validate it. Everyone had an opinion, but few actually wanted to LISTEN and LEARN.
So once again as Colorado endures another massacre I urge everyone to drop their assumptions, their agendas, and need to fit this tragedy into their own lens of perception. Just try listening for a while.