An incomplete celebration

By Benjamin Chase of the Plainsman
Posted 6/15/24

In this From the Mound, the writer examines a celebration that was dulled this week and the lack of effort to learn from that event

This item is available in full to subscribers.

Please log in to continue

Log in

An incomplete celebration


“You’re going to roll right over this one
Just roll me over, let me go
You’re laying blame
Take this as no, no, no, no, no”
“Bang and Blame” — R.E.M.

A student band at the University of Georgia, R.E.M. formed in 1980 and had success on college radio for much of the 1980s before “The One I Love” took off as a mainstream single.

That led to the group getting a national record deal, and they went into development on their first major album, finding even more success in their first two albums through Warner Brothers.

This single is off the band’s 1994 album “Monster,” their third major-label release. It became the last number-one single in Billboard’s Modern Rock charts and their only No. 1 single in Canada. The group would amicably disband in 2011 and while encouraged by significant amounts of money since, have not reunited for tours or even single shows since the “breakup” of the band.

The song has an infectious pace to it that drives the listener forward within the rhythm guitar and drums and then vocalist Michael Stipe’s trademark voice pierces through with lyrics that outline a breakup of a romantic relationship or a friendship that’s happening in a public sphere rather than privately.

Public discord was notably different in 1994. If you did have access to the internet, it was through a dial-up modem that would coincide with your home phone line and drop any time someone attempted to call your house.

Therefore, “keyboard warriors” hadn’t quite taken hold yet, exploiting online anonymity to question, call out, and go so far as to bully others on the World Wide Web.

We’ve come a long way - or fallen that distance - since.

This week, what should be a monumental moment in a young person’s life, high school graduation, for dozens of young people in Connecticut was shrouded in sadness and even fear.

The sadness came from then-first-grade students who lost 20 of their classmates and six administrators and teachers during the Dec. 14, 2012, Sandy Hook School shooting.

Multiple graduating seniors will forever have etched into their minds the young boy who sacrificed himself to get a few students out of the classroom as bullets sprayed, the administrator who confronted the shooter to allow a few more students to escape before taking a bullet, and the sight of coming out of a hiding space to 6- and 7-year-old classmates’ bodies strewn throughout the school.

The fear component is simply because of the explosion of one facet of the internet. Alex Jones, one of the worst kinds of media grifters out there in my opinion, popularized a conspiracy that Sandy Hook was not real. Multiple court decisions will forever require any income Jones receives to be dolled out to families of victims from that day because he was (loudly) proclaiming lies through his platform.

Jones’ “believers” still torment the victims’ families and were making noise leading up to the graduation about staging a protest/rally outside to challenge the students and families that suffered on that day.

Sandy Hook was a significant moment where I remember being stuck to media coverage of the day. Every generation has its own moments, but those sort of “major bad” moments for my generation begin with watching a space shuttle blow up on television at school, then watching the coverage of Columbine, the first broadly-covered school shooting, before we then lived through 9/11 and Katrina destruction coverage.

Needless to say, it’s been a lot over the years. When those born in the late 1970s through early-1990s seemingly respond in odd manners to world conflict now, understand that it’s often due to a lifetime of widely-covered, in-the-moment reporting on significant national disasters.

Yes, Vietnam was covered widely on television, really the first major war to be covered thusly, but it’s different to hear about a war and see the aftermath than to watch someone jump out of the Twin Towers live on air.

In part, it’s why you see such diametrically opposite responses to some of the celebrations of this month.

Many who are now reaching or beyond retirement age struggle with acceptance of Pride Month, Juneteenth, and other cultural celebrations expressed during June (though no issues seem to arise from recognizing D-Day, Flag Day, or Father’s Day from the same group).

Generations who are in their 20s and younger frequently see these celebrations as just part of life, something that’s been part of the world their entire lives. Quite frankly, every state and the District of Columbia had a recognition in some way of Juneteenth by 1979, with every state except South Dakota observing the day as a state holiday before it became a federal holiday in 2021.

Then, those who came to age as the Internet and many of the changes in how we relate to world events drastically shifted, are left split between our parents and our children’s responses to what should be celebrations.

Quite frankly, June is a very busy month with celebrations. The first day of summer is also in June (this coming Thursday), but many also participate (likely without even knowing it’s a recognized celebration) in National Camping Month, Men’s Health Month, National Rose Month, and National Steakhouse Month in the month of June, to name just a few.

We like to celebrate the things that impact our lives, but if I were to tell you that this is also National Scoliosis Awareness Month, you’d likely be interested if that was something that affected you or a loved one directly, but not so much if it wasn’t.

That’s usually how monthly celebrations go, so why do we see so much backlash to celebrations from those who aren’t directly affected by them during the month of June?

Quite frankly, it’s the same type of push that led to young people in Newton spending their graduation day realizing who wasn’t there as much as who was. When Sandy Hook occurred, the large push was that “certainly, a massacre of this level should lead to changes in gun laws/child protection/school protection/etc.”

But it hasn’t.

Those children are living proof that we can shuttle something that doesn’t directly affect us into a comfortable little box for someone else to deal with, unless there’s a reason to feel like you can attack behind a keyboard or make some money off someone else’s plight.

No real reason to change our day-to-day lives in order to prevent future issues, especially when those who align with our inherent political/social/religious leanings tell us that it’s not an issue that we need to invest further time in.

That same sort of disconnect is not applied to celebrations of those who have a different skin tone or religious belief or sexual identification than we have, in large part because someone somewhere is talking about why you should be offended, rather than simply allowing those who are affected to celebrate.

To those parents (likely in the same generation that observed Challenger and Columbine and 9/11 and Katrina widely covered live) who are witnessing former classmates of their now-deceased children walk across the stage, that disconnect is evident in a lack of celebration this weekend - whether it be graduation parties, Father’s Day lunch, or a lack of a family camping trip - because someone isn’t there to join in the celebration.

Who is to blame?

Frankly, as the R.E.M. tune goes on to explain in the lyrics, the answer is likely both parties truly needing to take some accountability for the public split and then either leaving well enough alone or working toward some level of reconciliation.

Bang and blame, indeed.