SLACKJAW by JIM KNIPFEL
July 21, 2013

Kill the Weirdo

 

It’s something that’s been obsessing me a little bit in recent months, this societal drive to not simply ostracize people (especially the young) who have no interest in buying into the status quo, but consciously villainizing them. It’s not just a matter of squashing out anything that’s different—that’s been with us from the beginning and will always be part of the human makeup. No, the more important thing is to prevent anything these people might say or write or think from spreading. Once you get too many people who won’t play the game, well, what in the hell are we going to do? Things might actually change!

            There are a number of ways of handling the weirdo issue. If you’re dealing with someone like Charles Manson or Ted Kaczynski or the Marquis De Sade (most of whose writings involve a philosophical attack on Christianity and an argument for the complete freedom of expression), the easiest thing to do is to declare them insane, lock them away, and tell everyone that their writings are “rambling and incoherent” (or in De Sade’s case, “sick pornography”). And not only are they crazy, they’re evil killers to boot. Before long, everyone will be parroting the party line and you’ll have nothing more to worry about. Who wants to listen to what a crazy man has to say? It would be a complete waste of time.

            It’s a technique that works best when dealing with individuals, though it has been modified a bit in recent days. Now instead of calling them crazy all you need to do is claim publicly (as in the case of the recent Boston bombers) that the perceived threat in question was somehow connected with a Middle Eastern terrorist group and we’ll know all we need to know.

            Things get a little trickier when you start dealing with larger groups. It takes a more concerted, orchestrated effort to convince the masses that a group of kids, for instance, who don’t belong to a well-defined corporate demographic are in reality a deadly threat to one and all.

            Back in the early eighties, I was one of three kids in my high school who listened to Black Flag, the Dead Kennedys, and the Bad Brains. we were just skinny dorky kids who’d been declared weird from the get-go. We read books and listened to different kinds of music and watched different kinds of movies and talked about different things. we didn’t care about fashion and we didn’t care about fitting in or being popular. This made us freaks, and hardcore had come along at exactly the right time to accentuate that. We weren’t bad kids, really; just a little off. Lord knows we were smarter than the jocks and the metal heads, both of whom, as part of the accepted social strata, hassled us regularly. Something strange was happening across the rest of the country, though, that quite accidentally worked to our advantage.

            In those early days of Reagan and the Moral Majority, this whole punk rock business was taken to be a very tangible and terrifying threat, not only to the Young People, but to their parents as well. Why did these kids dress that way? Why did they listen to such angry music full of all those curse words? Why did they hate the suburbs so much? What’s wrong with the suburbs? Cautionary prime time specials began cropping up on TV warning the citizenry about the threat posed by punk rock, and daytime talk shows tried to counsel parents on what to do should their son or daughter come home with a Mohawk. These evil punk rockers, see, had absolutely no respect for authority or human life. They regularly carved up policemen, killed their parents, ate babies and dogs, and burned down churches. It seems punks like myself represented, as Penelope Spheeris put it in her wonderful 1981 documentary, The Decline of Western Civilization. It was all pretty fucking hilarious. Reagan was in office and thuggish Christian jocks were running the schools, but they thought WE were the threat? We were just GEEKS, for godsakes!

            More hilarious still, punk villains began appearing on shows like CHiPs, Quincy., M.E. and Miami Vice, all of them clearly created by someone who had never met, and possibly never even seen a real punk. It was only a matter of time before low-budget filmmakers got in on the act, writing punk villains into their exploitation pictures.

            Sure enough, after reading some statistics about the frightening rise in school violence, Mark Lester, the man who directed Roller Boogie, decided that those evil punk rockers he’d heard so much about must be behind it. So in his 1982 movie The Class of 1984, a gang of punk rockers ruled their inner city high school through brutality and fear. They sold drugs, ran a prostitution ring, killed and raped and swore and showed no respect for their elders.

            Little did Lester realize that he was actually providing the punks in the audience with a role model. Running a high school prostitution ring and making the other kids fear us sure looked like a hell of a lot more fun then getting beat up by another football player. The idea that people might actually be afraid of us because we had silly clothes and silly hair and talked about anarchy, well, that changed things.

            As, I must suspect, a direct result of all the media paranoia, the police started shutting down punk rock shows regularly and harassing us when we were on our way to the store. It felt pretty good there for awhile, this being a menace to society business.

            Eventually Reagan left office, people who’d been involved in the scene got on with things, and the major record labels figured out a way to make punk rock safe (they called it “Nirvana”) and made millions in the process.

            The type of kids who would’ve become punks back in 1980 are still with us. They’re still bored, disillusioned, depressed, angry, and frustrated, and they’re still smart enough to know they want no part of the world they’ve been given. In short, they haven’t been brainwashed. There are fewer of them around now, but they’re still out there. Problem is, there’s nothing like punk to give them some kind of collective identity, so they’re on their own. And in the eyes of the mainstream, they’re still a threat, and an even deadlier threat than the punks, because these kids are lone wolves. (By the way, feel free to drop in your own bit about the West Memphis Three anyplace you like.)

            This is why the school shootings over the past fifteen years or so have been a godsend in terms of maintaining the status quo. The fact that in a couple of cases it was kids like Klebold and Harris at Columbine who did the shooting is all that was needed. Forget that it was an adult who shot up Sandy Hook, an adult who shot up the movie theater in Aurora, that it’s been adult after adult who’s shot up offices and restaurants and churches and shopping malls. Forget that only a small percentage of the mass shootings in this country have been perpetrated by people under the age of twenty. That doesn’t matter. Thanks to a lot of governmental arm-waving and a fuzzy-headed media onslaught, in the mind of the public now, every mass shooting is a school shooting, and all the gunmen are kids.

            As a result, according to a recent NOVA special (for which I was interviewed and from which I was excised), shrinks are now warning teachers and administrators to be on the lookout for the weird kids—the loners, the depressives, the ones who don’t dress like everyone else, the ones who are bullied and who seem disillusioned. Those are the real danger. Those are the kids who are going to show up one day with a gym bag full of automatic weapons. Instead of providing a list of attributes, the shrinks might just as well be telling the teachers, “be sure to keep an eye out for any smart kids, because they’re gonna kill us all.”

            It’s much more dangerous and insidious than anything I ever faced as a kid. Cops might have called me a faggot and I might’ve been shoved around a little in the halls, but my teachers and parents liked me. Now, though, if a teacher looks at the weird kid as a potential killer instead of a bright and imaginative student, if a letter gets sent home informing the parents their son is going to shoot up the school one day because he’s a loner and seems unhappy, what the fuck happens then?

            I’m sorry if I’m repeating myself, but like I said I’m a little obsessed with this of late.

            The powers that be seem to be close to perfecting the push to crush out anyone who chooses not to think like everyone else. Send all these weird kids off to institutions, flatline them with psychoactives, recondition them to care about their clothes and their hair and how many Facebook friends they’ve got, and before long we’ll never have to worry about those annoying “smart people” ever again.

 

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