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A Clockwork Shooter, Modern Day Ultraviolence: What Burgess Got Wrong
November 5, 2019
Another mass shooting, or rather, two mass shootings at the same time. [This article was written on August 5th, 2019, the day following two separate mass shootings within 13 hours of each-other] Like most things in the modern world, everything seems so procedural and banal, from the canned hysterical responses, the counter-responses, the same old calls for gun control, the blame game, etc. Truly the era of mass spectacle has so thoroughly seeped into our collective bloodstream (like micro plastics) that everything is utterly unsurprising. Trump is to blame, Guns are to blame, now the buzzword concepts of “radicalization” and “stochastic terror” is trotted out by the mainstream media and blue-check journalists that just heard about these terms a few seconds ago before presenting “expert” looking tweet-threads on the subject.
The same forced-memes are shared, the same crocodile tears spilled from opportunist media types and politicians that once again must pretend to care about another tragedy viewed vicariously from afar. “MY HEART BREAKS” as one politician says, right before reminding people to vote Trump out in the same tweet. Such incredulous emotional displays are thankfully seen through and ratio’d now. Forgive my cynicism, but I find it difficult to believe that the most narcissistic and craven among us whom occupy the various halls of Cathedral institutions, could deep down feel personal emotions towards “just another statistic” as Stalin once remarked. Even academics, such as Mr. Reza “did I mention I have two PhDs!” Aslan find it befitting to call for the mass eradication of a good percentage of Americans (I.E. Lil Donny supporters).
But as to be expected, overt and instant politicization of these mass spectacles of violence is simply the norm. So much so in fact that they do not even feel real, but abstract, hyper-real, seen through the same ideological lenses and processed through the same media channels. The mass shooter has now become a symbol, not exactly a real coldblooded killer, but a specter that haunts hyper-modernity. There is no dark and deep-seated unconscious romance to them like with serial killers. They appear at random from the shadows, and their massacres are ripe for ideological exploitation. Their victims are seldom mentioned when it comes down to the work of attributing blame. Of course there are a lot of weirdos and impressionable lost people that idolize various mass shooters, but this is phenomenon has not yet reached mainstream cultural consciousness, the same way that people obsessive over murders and serial killers has. Perhaps it is because of the ideological dimensions of the domestic terrorist and mass shooter, when politics abounds, Romanticism (even dark Romanticism) dies, at least to most normal people, and of course excluding random anonymous edge lords.
But these are all distractions from the main thrust of this piece. Recently, I watched a video from a film reviewer going on about how Stanley Kubrick, one of the most genius auteurs to actually reach a mainstream audience, adapted the original Anthony Burgess novel “A Clockwork Orange” to the final film cut. Immediately I sensed that I must write a little number on how the main themes of ACO hold up to present-day reality.
In the future dystopian world depicted ACO, Alex and his Droogs embody the apex of “youth in revolt”. A society half-collapsed, filled with youth gangs formed by people like Alex, violent nihilistic psychopaths that terrorize the streets, “the young having at the old” as the dialogue describes as Alex and the boys beat a homeless vagrant to death. The society is no less craven and depraved, as even Alex’s victims are just as brutal and unscrupulous. Here is a world Burgess predicts that is not much unlike ours: we are obsessed with sex, even sexual depravity and objectification, hedonism, materialism, drug culture, etc. There are tons of dilapidated and abandoned industrial works inhabited by marginalized vagrants and the equally marginalized youth that prey upon them. As one film reviewer puts it:
“He is a horny, violent and brutal psychopath who is simultaneously a charming and witty person who relishes in the aesthetic beauty of creative actions. In this way, Alex represents the danger of romanticising both social liberalism and aesthetic daring. When we romanticise such political values, we ignore how effectively they can manifest the uglier sides of humanity“.
Our civilization is the most socially “liberal” in history, and yet the worship of aesthetic daring simply boils down to banal hedonism. So where is Burgess wrong in his (more or less) accurate depiction of western civilization in the future, and in decline?
To begin with, I wont even bother with some milquetoast, statistics obsessed, “end of history” liberalism that points to how overt acts of violence are in decline, ALA Steve Pinker. Even if this was perhaps true prima-facie, our society more than makes up for it by the promotion of inner decline, personal self-destruction, Anomie, ennui and the like. The extend to which society has fallen is often hidden, and perhaps an increase in overt violence, as the economic and social makeup of western civilization declines, is not far behind.
The psycho-social forces of modernity are as Burgess depicted, but the way they are expressed by the marginal and fringe youths on the edge is completely different. In the world of ACO, we have the dark and nearly romanticized image of violent, sexually sadistic youth gangs, locked in an eternal war of micro tribe against tribe, clad with Vietnam jungle boots, ready to blitzkrieg their way through the modern world like the barbarians of yore. Free of any social limitations imposed on them by the contemptible, hapless older generations (Boomers now a days) that sold their futures out for momentary gain, these are the Storm Troopers of nihilistic apathy that bath in a metaphysical sea of moral indifference.
But in our current reality, this image does not quite fit because it does not account for the degree to which modern youths are crippled by isolation and alienation; This is why the mass shooter is a creature of our era. No longer do the vast majority of apathetic and listless youths find solidarity in immediate tribal cliches, albeit potentially in digital ones. The ones who do commit acts of mass violence to not sustain their depravity as a nightly ritual like we see in ACO, but rather commit a sudden outburst of random violence, often motivated by a number of factors combined, ranging from mental illness to ideology (but i repeat myself).
The mass shooter wishes to “put their number on the leader board” as it were, and often operate alone. The deranged are not lead by mutual lusts for debauchery and violence, like in the youth gangs of ACO, but by impersonal forces of meme politics, internet personality cults, Anonymity-driven edginess, even identifying with some literal cartoon fantasy (in the case of Randy Stair); In the same week we have a vivid and even archetypal imagio of the way in which our atomized and divided society manifests itself in disenfranchised young men. In El Paso, a White-Nat MAGA clone shoots up a Walmart, and in Dayton, a socialist Warren supporter with Twitter bio pronouns in a poly relationship commits another mass shooting. It is of a tragicomic nature that they happened within a day of each other.
Mass shooters are a sign of Anomie (the Durkheim concept) in a lost age of wasted youth, and I propose that not a single ham-fisted, ideologically convenient explanation is there and easy to expropriate for mass narrative-consumption. Rather a plethora of factors are responsible for such frequent atrocities on a localized scale. Ideology is merely one among many aspects that contribute to the reality of the Mass Shooter. As people defend video games, think for a moment, how many edge-lords that visit /pol/ and watch so-called “radicalizing” YouTube videos actually act out their impotent frustrations? Most people, even fringe extremists, on an unconscious level view politics like everything in the online realm, an elaborate MMORPG game via Anonymous brand identities. This is why lone terrorist shooters are the norm and not violent youth gangs (apart from certain sectors of inner cities) as a whole. Even acts of violence and depravity are mediated through lone-isolating distortion fields of simulacra, and hyper-real displays of ultraviolence.
If one was unfortunate enough to view the horrendous NZ shooter’s go-pro livestream, one would think its some twisted and sickening video game. This is not blame Video games of course (perhaps it is another factor among many, but in the wake of these recent shootings, people seem to have a visceral repulsion to critically examining their precious escapist toys) but to point out that the character of the ideologically inspired millenarian terrorist is that of a robot, moving from room to room as if nothing is actually happening. In ACO the psychopathic gang leader Alex is a criminal of supremely hideous ID-driven passions. In these recent mass shootings, the perpetrators seem devoid of any emotion or lust for peak experiences, even Dylan and Eric expressed extreme pleasure in their angst-ridden revenge fantasies.
This is a topic I am well aware is very much a hot button issue, and I of course tread with caution in saying this, but mass shooters and home-grown millenarian terrorists are very much a product of our time; they are often enacting an over reified view of reality through prisms not of their own making, often cut off from whole parts of their unconscious being. They, more often than, act on the need to simple become conveyors for whatever fringe cause they choose to graft their shell-like being onto, a sign of this era’s politicization of all life. Alex and his Droogs are creatures of abysmal appetite lusts, modern shooters are creatures of multitudinous factors culminating in a singularity of self-dejection and projection. Of course this is not to sympathize with the mass shooter, but to rather understand how their psychological makeup is fundamentally different than that of more conventional depictions of “youth in revolt”, and ACO is a good fictional contrast to our present reality.