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Life in America can all too often feel like déjà vu. groundhog day but with less piano playing by Bill Murray. Its citizens wake up in a country recovering from another mass shooting and feel as if they are still in a nightmare. No headline conveyed the feeling of hopelessness better than this one. Onion: “There is no way to prevent it,” says only the country where it happens regularly. Raising it again after yet another mass shooting – like this week in Uvalda, Texas, which claimed the lives of 19 children and two adults – seems as much a part of the horrific cycle as anything else.
Onion knows it. He has been publishing versions of the story since 2014, after an incident in Isla Vista, California that left six people dead and many more injured. Every time another massacre occurs in America, the site publishes it again – 21 times since Isla Vista. They’re almost identical, only the details of the shooting are changed to reflect the new location and the number of people killed, but the rest – like the cycle of desperation that occurs after each incident – stays the same. On Wednesday, when the details of the deaths of people at the Uvalde school became known, Onion covered his home page with each of the individual stories and posted them all on a long Twitter thread.
OnionThe move revealed not only the appalling frequency of gun violence in the US, but also the ugly cycle of coping that follows. Americans now know that every incident will be followed by multiple calls for gun control, political silence and, ultimately, little to no action. As they tell the story, the distraught people remind themselves that there is some kind of agreement that it shouldn’t be like this. Jason Roeder, who wrote the headline eight years ago, said the same rolling stone This week. “I’m worried this is just another part of the mass shooting ceremony – thoughts and prayers, no politics, #GunControlNow and so on,” he said. “But I usually recognize the headline as a brief indictment of a culture hypnotized by guns and sentenced to people dying for the death penalty for being fourth graders or standing in the frozen food aisle.”
Over the years I’ve pretty much done the original Onion memory article. In each iteration, it begins with a sentence stating the location of the attack and the number of people killed or wounded, and ends with the words: “Citizens living in the only country where this type of massacre occurs regularly reportedly concluded on Tuesday that there is no way to prevent the massacre.” This time, after rereading it again, it took on even more urgency – not because he pointed out the frequency of shootings and that there are actions, such as stricter gun laws, that could affect them – but also because , which echoed one troubling detail that emerged on Wednesday when the headline was circulating. Spectators at Robb’s Primary School in Uvalde reportedly the cops begged go to school to stop the massacre, but they didn’t. Javier Cazares, who lost his daughter in the fourth grade in the attack, told the Associated Press that he suggested that the crowd break into the school. “Let’s just hurry up because the cops don’t do anything they should,” he said. “More could have been done.”
At a press conference on Thursday, law enforcement officials objected to the question of whether the parents tried to get into the school to save their children. The adequacy of the police response to the Uvalda shooting will be determined over time, but despite this, Cazares’ claim is true in a broad sense: more could have been done. Most Americans want stricter gun laws, but perhaps not enough to force politicians to pass them. More could have been done before Tuesday’s shooting, more could have been done during it, more could have been done now. OnionThe headline remains relevant because of all the preventive measures that America never takes. And as Raeder said rolling stone“if it helps people channel their sadness, anger and hopelessness, that’s not too bad for 12 words.”
Focusing on a humor site’s story at a time of national devastation may seem immature, but it also seems necessary. It may not be obvious at a time when people are arguing about whether transphobic jokes are acceptable (it isn’t), but comedy can, when called upon, provide a balm. Back in 2016, after the Pulse nightclub shooting in Orlando, my former colleague Brian Raftery wrote that “when it comes to finding humor after a tragedy, Onion remains our most effective means of emergency response.” It may not be entirely true anymore, but many people still go there, trying to find the right way to react to another terrible event. For the same reason, perhaps I didn’t need to dedicate a column to an article that WIRED already wrote about in 2016. Or maybe we’ll have to keep writing it until this nightmare is over.
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