Within minutes of the news breaking that Jared Lee Loughner had killed six and wounded 14 in a rampage outside a Tucson Safeway store, including a critically injured Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, the news media immediately leaped to the conclusion that the harsh tone of our political discourse -- led by conservative talk radio -- surely must be to blame.
That narrative turned out to be hogwash, but another one has emerged during the investigation into Loughner's psyche, yet virtually no one wants to discuss it. Was the shooter inspired by the entertainment media?
Why would violent movies or music be left out of the rush to judgment? Perhaps it's because pop-culture defenders never tire of arguing that no one can blame the "artists" -- be they musicians, movie-makers or video-game manufacturers -- for youth violence. So it becomes awkward, to say the least, that everyone's discussing the need to curb a national appetite for angry rhetoric, when it was disturbing music and movies that were influencing Loughner's mind, and they are ignored.
It took 72 hours for Loughner's entertainment appetites to enter the media mainstream. On Jan. 11, the Washington Post noted that on the shooter's YouTube channel, a lone video is listed as a favorite. J. Freedom du Lac reported on the rock band Drowning Pool: "As a hooded figure wearing a garbage bag for pants limps across the desert to set fire to an American flag, a howling heavy-metal song called 'Bodies' serves as the video's relentless soundtrack."
The lyrics are screamed: "Let the bodies hit the floor! Let the bodies hit the floor! Let the bodies hit the floor!" in an obvious echo of a shooting rampage like Loughner's. This isn't the first time this music was associated with a murder. In the northern Virginia suburb of Oakton in 2003, du Lac added, "then-19-year-old Joshua Cooke cranked the throbbing tune on his headphones, walked out of his bedroom holding a 12-gauge shotgun and killed his parents."
I think we can agree that this is a more provocative ode to violence than Sarah Palin's map with targets on a piece of congressional geography. Even the name of the band implies death.
In a statement posted Jan. 10, the band said they were "devastated" by the news from Tucson "and that our music has been misinterpreted, again." They claimed the song was written about "the brotherhood of the mosh pit and the respect people have for each other in the pit. If you push others down, you have to pick them back up. It was never about violence. It's about a certain amount of respect and a code."
The words "mosh pit" are nowhere in the lyrics. But this line is: "Push me again / This is the end."
The closest reference to being in a rock-concert crowd is this: "Skin against skin, blood and bone / You're all by yourself, but you're not alone / You wanted in, now you're here / Driven by hate, consumed by fear." But these words depict "a certain amount of respect and a code"?
The wire services added that Loughner liked government-conspiracy documentaries like the 9/11-truther films "Loose Change" and "Zeitgeist," and bizarre cult films like "Donnie Darko," a 2001 movie summarized as "A troubled teenager is plagued by visions of a large bunny rabbit that manipulates him to commit a series of crimes."
As he's told the world will end in 28 days, Donnie Darko (played by actor Jake Gyllenhaal) floods the school, steals his father's gun and burns the home of a motivational speaker, where firemen uncover a "kiddie porn dungeon." The film ends with Donnie laughing in bed as a falling jet engine crashes into his bedroom.
No network news anchor was blaming Richard Kelly, the cult film's writer and director, for filling Loughner's disturbed mind with more apocalyptic visions. That would be unfair. That would be oppressing an artist with a "chilling effect." But blaming a Palin map with targets on congressional districts (or TV and radio talk shows that Loughner never watched or heard) isn't just fair game. It's an urgent national priority.
I don't know if Loughner is deranged or the epitome of evil. If you want to look at the dark influences, however, be honest and report the evidence as it exists. Fox News had nothing to do with this. Nor did Rush, Beck, Palin or any other conservative. Angry heavy-metal bands and cult-movie directors shouldn't be charged with crimes, either. But to what extent did their "entertainment" poison this man's mind? Let the discussion go there.