The perils of culture watching

Highland Park
Highland Park – July 4, 2022

Two years ago, Irish singer / songwriter Imelda May released a poem titled You don’t get to be Racist and Irish. It was beautiful, but, more importantly, every line of it made perfect sense.

How could you be proud of your own people in their efforts to be free and maintain an ongoing racism toward others fighting that same fight? Perfectly Logical.

Until you got to the Youtube comments section. Scattered densely across the comments were some of the most hateful pro-racist diatribes you might want to read, reinforcing the fact that, I suppose, it is indeed possible to be racist and Irish.

The comments weren’t reasonable or logical. They ignored every part of May’s argument, but reasonable discourse is not what they were made to do. Unfortunately, those comments represent current culture as much as Imelda May’s poem does. The rational and irrational.

In his Podcast with Bruce Springsteen, President Barack Obama suggested that you don’t get to be a racist and a musician, music-lover, fan. And this is also deeply rational. So much of modern music has, at its roots, elements of black origination and culture. It doesn’t explain Eric Clapton, whose racist diatribes from on stage have become epic, as irrational an expression as any random youtube comment, for sure.

So, what is worth watching in culture. The wisdom? The idiocy? “Please, tell me it’s not the youtube comments, the idiot pools of human thought” you say.

Well, I can’t tell you that. Into the idiot pools we go.

On July 4th of this year, Highland Park resident Bobby Crimo shot up a parade celebration, leaving seven dead and dozens wounded in his wake. He was arrested. While speaking to reporters earlier today, Wednesday, Lake County State’s Attorney Eric Rinehart said that Crimo had admitted to what he had done but his motivation wasn’t necessarily clear.

In clarification, Rineheart is a Lawyer who recognizes that, in order for him to present a motive, he would need an overwhelmingly unimpeachable body of evidence. In order to talk about it, we don’t. So what Idiot Pools birthed Crimo?

First of all, in reading the unreasonable, we see that he is a rapper who had frequently produced content that alluded to violence and even, specifically, mass shooting. Guns factored into this. Some of this content depicts him, or a cartoon version of him, dying in the end. As well, he has at least one suicide attempt on record. His “cultural immersion” is into a group that should be highly recognizable to us.

In 2019, associate professor of criminology at Hamline University Jillian Peterson, and professor of criminal justice at Metro State University, James Densley, received Funding from the National Institute of Justice, the research arm of the Department of Justice, to make a database of every mass shooter since 1966 who shot and killed four or more people in a public place, and every shooting incident at schools, workplaces and places of worship since 1999. Then data mine the results.

The results were consistent enough to let them write a book. The Violence Project: How to Stop a Mass Shooting Epidemic.

In nearly every case, they found young white men with significant early childhood trauma – violence, sexual assault, parental suicides, extreme bullying – in the home, building toward hopelessness, despair, isolation, self-loathing, and rejection from peers, including women, evolving to a crisis point where they’re acting differently, frequently attempting suicide. Issues of masculinity arose, feelings that they were somehow being prevented from being who they were.

Suicidal ideation then is turned outward. What differs from a traditional suicide attempt is that the self-hate turns against a group. They start questioning, “Whose fault is this?” Is it a racial group or women or a religious group, or is it my classmates? The hate turns outward. There’s also this quest for fame and notoriety, to have an end that is big, glorious, epic, coupled with the ongoing expectation that America has that “a hero with a gun can solve any problem.”

They will be that hero.

The core of this is that this is a culture- even though the adherents may not interact significantly with each other. It is an identifiable psychographic full of people with coherent, if unreasonable needs.
Crimo was a rapper, yet he and his father had a history of social media postings that ran toward the racist. Is that reasonable? No, but it’s real. Just as it’s unreasonable for Eric Clapton to tell the very people at his concerts whose roots forged the music he plays to “go home” and “go back where you came from,” this is irrational. He came from a family that did not demonstrate significant hardship. Yet he demonstrated a level of victimization that suggests he was being hurt somehow by people far less privileged than he was. Was that rational? No.

But it’s real.

Not Long ago, Trump made clear on the golf course that he would be the 47th president, despite the obstacles involved. This young man, like many other Trump supporters, had a number 47 tattooed on him to show support. In his case, on his face. The word “Awake” was also represented, a common concept for conspiracy theorists on the right side (in construct to “woke” which was idealized to mean something similar- to be aware of what the world looks like for real- only in this case, a profoundly biased version). The logo for his rapper project was a simple Viking-like Rune, something that far right white supremacist culture gravitates to often.

In pictures, he is found at Trump rallies, wearing a Trump flag as a cape. He was shooed away, not long before, from a local synagogue where he appeared to be casing it for a similar shooting. He’s also found wearing a pepe the frog shirt which, unfortunately for the character’s creator, has become a racist meme or symbol of white supremacy, according to the Southern Poverty Law Center.

Crimo’s “culture” is also represented by the proximal amassing of weapons. He purchased a number of guns prior to the shooting, legally. And since his previous acts, the attempted suicide and an at-home knife danger complaint, didn’t stop him from getting a gun card or buying weapons with a background check, he was able to easily collect what was needed to do what he did.

We don’t understand what Crimo did, or his motivations. We disagree with him. We think he’s irrational and wrong. And because of that, it’s often hard to recognize that it’s real. That when someone like him begins to lean toward the suicidal, it’s real.

As well, it’s so easy to focus on the external damage, the lives lost, people hurt, that we don’t see the kernel at the center of it. That this is an act of suicide from someone who considers the collateral damage to be “temple slaves in his pyramid”- unwilling and faceless participants in his grand, heroic suicide.

We must get better at culture watching in cases where that culture is violent and quick to destroy. We don’t get second chances. We don’t get lots of time. And we don’t get the freedom of figuring out what makes sense.

Because it doesn’t.

~ Agents of Slang

Agents Of Slang is an open-tactic brand support team made up of a group of real-world award-winning artists, culture drivers, musicians, typographers, rappers, creatives, and content makers. Black-owned and powered by real diversity.

AOS is led by Ella Britton Gibson, Jim Marcus & Vince Lawrence

ALSO READ: Mrs. Maisel star reacts to Highland Park killings