Videodrome : I Want You To Think These Dangerous Thoughts

Jessica Fenlon


"Gunshots woke me up this morning," he said.

"How could this happen?" "How could this not happen?"


On Pittsburgh becomes another developing story.



The violence festered.
The community treated it with the medicine it knew.
The violence flared.
The fabric of our community tore.

It is dangerous to feel the powerlessness running circles around a violent home.


Nobody likes to remember the bully's bruises.
Nobody wants to remember the bully's bruises.
Nobody willing to remember the bully's bruises.


We learn to overlook the bruises on that boy's body at school.
We learn to forget she said her stepfather comes into her room at night.


We are grateful we are not them.

Dodged bullets of the wrong parents.

Or, what our parents did, it wasn't as bad.
Or, what our parents did, it didn't show.

The shooter failed out of the military. The shooter was a high school bully. The shooter is an obnoxious douchebag. The shooter is an obnoxious douchebag with a "history of domestic violence".

Read: The shooter created loud, unsettling, sometimes-violent scenes that the neighbors struggled to deal with. In their powerlessness, they called the police. Who else do they call?

Guns permeate our society. Guns are to domestic violence as matches are to a firebug. The powerless man picks up a gun - power literalized.

Guns allow the worst.

Guns mean he happened to us.

Any sense of his connection to our community, Pittsburgh, gets thrown out the window by this series of trigger pulls. We are his opponent now. We, Pittsburgh, talk to him as the cops, as SWAT.

Violent homes are a statistical normality.
Rape is a statistical normality.

Whence the illusion this is not normal human behavior? Why pretend it's not there?

I hate remembering the feeling of being under the knee of my third grade bully, the one who put gum in my hair/spit in my face/broke my tooth/gave me a nosebleed/pointed and laughed. I hate that vulnerable feeling.

I hate remembering the mean girls who spread lies about me, about each other, poisoning the water we drank from, the water of ourselves.

Its so painful I have made myself forget that feeling. I put it in the margin. I put these memories in tiny locked boxes which leak ten, twenty, thirty years later, leak into my uneasy fear.

I am not allowed to feel this, even as I try to grieve what happened to all of us.

The problem of witnessing.
To witness makes me complicit in it.

What resources did the neighborhood have? Who could they call to repair this family?

The cops came.
The cops went.
There was some honeymoon of silence.
Then the noise started again.
The cops came.
The cops went.


There's that cycle. The rhythm of violence, appeasement, honeymoon, violence again. And the nesting boxes: the mother struggles with the violent son. the neighborhood struggles. one or both call the police. The police do their best.

The cycle repeats: who's in control now? Who's writing the rules of the violent confrontation - who has control? All the fine points of domestic violence turned onto the community to struggle with.

The bully claiming control through the weapon of his body, through the weapon of his menace, through the weapon of his gun. The bully puts his family on notice, puts the community on notice.


When did we turn the police into social workers?

We were all made witness to acts of domestic violence.


I'm not equipped to reconcile a violent family. Are the cops? Maybe they are. Are they?
Good grief. We sent these men to their death, on a "routine call".

This is a human problem with a long history.
How we keep individuals connected to the community,
in right relationship with the community,
in nonviolent relationship with the community?

Survivors of domestic violence will tell you, they didn't choose it. It creeps. It keeps happening, steadily increasing in intensity in a long slow walk. Tolerance rises as the incidents of violence rise. A correlative steady erosion of self-respect doesn't help things, either.



Three Pittsburgh cops died protecting a mother from her son.


A fabric tears.
Guns tear the fabric.
Don't confuse the means with
the will behind
the hand tearing.

Violent homes are a statistical normality.
Rape is a statistical normality.

Whence the illusion this is not normal human behavior? Why pretend it's not there?

We are not alone. This has crept up on other cities, too.

Are there answers? Are we blinding ourselves to a reality because we believe only the intensity of what we see, the difficulty? Are we wrapped up in our own reaction to the blood, the loss, are we wrapped up in managing our own reaction


(numbing, ignoring, judging the people involved, judging the violent man who made choices, but perhaps those choices were the function of his own unmanagable fear, and who taught him to manage that fear with guns in the first place)


Do we believe this trauma so much that we can't find a solution, because of the powerlessness unarticulated just below the surface, because we can't bear to look at what it is, what it could say about each of us?



Jessica Fenlon is an artist and writer living in Pittsburgh. She studies the nesting boxes of human behavior. She designed this website as well as her own.


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