A conversation about the representation of mass violence from David Bowie to Parkland on Friday, December 13, 2019 from 6:30-8:30pm, with survivor and activist Samantha Fuentes and cultural anthropologist Eric Montgomery in conversation, moderated by artist Indrani Pal-Chaudhuri
In Valentine’s Day (2013), David Bowie explores the mind of a high school shooter. The last single released during his lifetime, the video has inspired considerable debate. Do the shadows of his guitar look like an AK47? Does his pose mirror former NRA president Charlton Heston’s “cold dead hands” salute? What is the message that Bowie sought to bequeath to us? And what are we to make of the fact that on Valentine’s Day 2018, a gunman at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida fired on students and staff in a manner that echoed Bowie’s song?
Samantha Fuentes was one of those wounded in the Parkland shooting. Along with bullet shrapnel permeating her body, PTSD, survivor’s guilt, and death threats, she has gained a powerful resolve to fight gun violence, and to uplift the voices of the silenced. She uses social media to push for change in gun laws, and tours the country speaking out to prevent mass shootings. Honored as a symbol of hope, alongside Hollywood stars and literary heroes, she has become a celebrity speaker on mass shootings. What does it mean and what is the personal cost for a survivor to become a personification of resistance to gun violence?
The alleged gunman, too, has become a celebrity from the killings. “When you see me on the news, you’ll know who I am,” Nikolas Cruz’ video announced prior to the massacre. A fan of the Columbine shooters, he is followed by his own disturbing subculture, “Cruzers” and the “Niko Community.” So how do we stop the escalation of mass shootings? What if we follow Bowie’s suggestion and explore the minds of the shooters themselves? While research shows mass shooters often have narcissistic tendencies and histories of domestic violence and misogyny, they very rarely have diagnosable mental illnesses. And while the number of Americans killed in mass shootings has grown dramatically over the past half century, the number of shootings has remained constant since the ’80s. Is it a coincidence that the amount of victims and body-counts correlates to which killings receive extensive reporting on by the media? We know that most mass shooters study previous killers and strategize, sometimes with spreadsheets, about how to increase the number of victims and maximize media exposure. Is the quest for social capital and power through fame to blame? Can denying perpetrators the celebrity they seek by not reporting on their names help bring an end to this epidemic of mass violence?