Hrishikesh Hirway is a 39-year-old musician and designer, a composer and podcaster extraordinaire, hosting the very popular Song Exploder as well as co-hosting The West Wing Weekly with actor Joshua Malina.
The West Wing is probably my favorite show, as odd as it is to think of things that way. Mostly I say that because I've probably seen it the most times, multiple viewings of every episode. I'm a big fan.
So is Hrishi, of course, and he sometimes speaks to this on the show, his familiarity with characters and episodes seeping into his everyday life. With 150 hours' worth of moments, it's easy to wander across a situation that seems similar to when, say, C.J. had that thing with Danny and Josh came in and did that other thing. You follow, I think. The show seeps.
So this is what I thought, yesterday: It was like Equatorial Kundu.
E.K. is a fictional Ivory Coast nation on the show, a country that quickly devolves into civil war and, even more quickly, into genocide. This was obviously a reflection of reality, a callback to the 1994 Rwanda genocide that caught the rest of the world sitting on our heels, stunned by the rapidity of the horror and (primarily) uninterested in venturing onto the continent. A million people were murdered. A million.
So our fictional president, about to be inaugurated for his second term, is troubled by this fictional nation. His advisors are also torn, no one all that eager to see U.S. troops engaged in any way in what his Secretary of Defense clearly sees as a "shithole" country.
At one point, Pres. Bartlet murmurs to a speechwriter, "Why is an American life worth more to me than a Kundunese one?"
"I don't know, sir," the aide replies (played by Mr. Malina, in fact), "but it is," in a stunning example of speaking painful truth to power.
Later on, at a prayer breakfast, an actor clearly meant to remind us of archbishop Desmond Tutu gently chastises the president, asking him if, instead of Kundu, the violence had broken out in a small European country, would his administration be acting differently? Bartlet acknowledges that, in fact, it would.
So I wonder if this is where we are.
First, there's the racial trope, which we all know about by now and grasp. It's hardly worth noting, even. The perpetrator of our latest school shooting yesterday in Florida was a white teenager with an AR-15. There are some murmurs of mental health, but mostly shrugging and sighing. Some people break bad, whatcha gonna do.
If he had darker skin, it would have been different. If he'd been radicalized in some way, particularly by Islamists, it would have been way different. Again, hardly worth mentioning.
But there's another detail I wonder about. A detail that nudges my West Wing trivia repository and produces the above Bartlet quotations.
It's the detail about the victims, not the shooter. That's what I wonder about.
We've been saying for a few years now that it's a lost cause, or at least many of us have been. After Sandy Hook Elementary, the theory goes, we know what will happen. If we can't come up with some sort of meaningful correction to the mayhem being carried out in our common spaces after little kids were gunned down, it's not gonna happen.
This is a genie that won't fit back in the bottle. There are soon going to be more guns in this country than people, most of whom don't own them. That is, most people don't have them; the ones that do, have lots. This doesn't sound like a good idea, but nobody is asking me.
The National Rifle Association, established as a civic-minded organization promoting safety and skill, is now just the political wing of arms dealers, essentially a terrorist organization. I'm not all that interested in being theatrical about serious stuff like this, and I have no problem with that statement. They don't represent gun owners; they represent death.
And they won. We're never getting rid of guns, and I can't really imagine that we would, anyway. Who am I to suggest that my friends and neighbors can't collect, hunt, protect? I'd have no problems if all guns just disappeared tomorrow, but I'd feel the same way about comic books or Adam Sandler. I'm not a user. I tend to listen to experts and reject dumb ideas like this.
The proliferation of weapons designed for mass murder seems a no-brainer to me, of course, but this just proves my NRA point: Polls show overwhelming majorities in this country in favor of more regulation of, if not banning, weapons like these, and yet it remains the only one of our rights and privileges as citizens presented as absolute. Oh my gosh, that slippery slope, the refuge of the lazy and the soulless.
But, again. Too many guns now. Too many mentally-ill people, also.
So whatever we do, collectively, assuming we actually do it, would have to focus primarily on the culture, trying to understand and prevent, as well as (I assume) stricter regulation...and this is not going to happen. It's just not. It hasn't and it won't, at least until (and unless) we reach a tipping point. So that's what I wonder about.
What will be our small European country? If the slaughter of 7-year-olds doesn't do a damn thing, who has to die to make a difference?
It's a morbid, horrible question, with worse imagery. Shoppers in a mall? Nursing home residents? Nuns in a convent?
Yeah, that's an ugly thing to ponder, but it's all I've got. Guns aren't going anywhere, and I can't see that this is the issue anymore, anyway. Ban the AR-15s, fine, whatever. Lock up the monsters, sure.
But something wicked this way has already come. It's in the water, in the soil, in the air. Spare me the hand-wringing about violent video games and movies, lack of parenting, all manner of bullshit that evades reality. Most teenagers are good and decent, as exposed as they are to the world today. Most people of brown skin are, too. The vast majority of Muslims. Christians, Jews, Sikhs, Buddhists. Americans. They see what the scary people see, and they're just fine.
As are the vast majority of gun owners, too. It should be noted.
So I'm left to just wonder what it will take, if there's anything to take. I wonder about a tipping point, and what possibly could change all of this. I wonder about blood money greasing the skids and how that might be fixed.
But mostly I just wonder who's next.