Leverett Butts - Musings of a Bored English Teacher

Occasional web log from Southern writer Leverett Butts.

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Location: Temple, Georgia, United States

English Professor in Georgia. Writer of Southern lit

Thursday, May 20, 2004

I have never given much credence to the idea that the increasing violence on television has rendered my fellow Americans insensitive to violence in general. I figured the whole brouhaha was either a liberal trick to lobby for kinder, gentler, and more friendly programming or a conservative trick to encourage programming in support of "family values" (whatever that means). However now I have my doubts.

The Atlanta campus of Georgia Military College (my humble place of employment) consists of two facilities: one, our primary base of operations, in Union City; and the other, a thinly manned outpost really, at a local military base.

As part of our contracts at GMC, instructors must spend at least one day a week at the base advising students, especially during registration. It's boring, it's slow, and it's pretty much a pain in the ass, but we do it.

Monday was my day for registration at the fort. It was also the day somebody sent our receptionist, Susan, a link to the unedited Nick Berg assassination footage.

When I walked into the office, Susan was trying to download the streaming video. We both figured it was the edited footage they'd shown on news programs all last week, but Julia, Susan's work-study assistant, hadn't seen it yet ("Who watches the news?" Julia asked when we expressed our surprise that she had missed this story).

It took about thirty minutes to download the video (you'd think the base would let us use their DSL connection, but I guess they figure a college has no need for high speed internet access). Imagine our surprise when the video didn't stop with the black-clad terrorist pulling out the big-ass knife.

Now, I admit a large part of me didn't want to look, but I found myself unable to turn away. I'm not saying that I was powerless, and therefore inculpable, I'm just saying that an equally large part of me (the same part of me that slows down at auto accidents, eavesdrops on the arguments of married couples, and picks at mouth ulcers) wanted to keep watching even though I knew it wasn't going to be pretty.

It wasn't. It wasn't even horrifying, really. I've heard the phrase "mind-numbing" my entire life. Hell, I've even used it. I don't believe, though, that before Monday morning I had ever truly experienced it.

The video was, indeed, mind numbing. As I watched that poor kid get killed, a sinking feeling filled my gut, and it hasn't really gone anywhere. I still feel it periodically throughout the day and it's Thursday.

My hearing failed. Oh, I realized people were talking; their voices were just muffled like my head was wrapped in wool and I was submerged in water.

I had to lean against the wall for a second.

The boy screamed, but he didn't scream long, and all I could think was "That poor, kid. Oh my god, what if he were mine?"

Then I pictured my own son in an orange jumper forced to tell me good-bye via a blurry, taped internet video. Then I thought about how I would feel having to say good-bye to my son's blurry electronic ghost.

If there's a god in heaven, I thought, please don't let his parents have to see this.

In the end there was only silence as the camera closed in on a grisly sight I have seen every night since then and hope never have to witness in my waking life again.

I quietly retired to my cubicle because I didn't want anyone to see my tears. I knew if I had to say something, I'd start jibbering like a child, and there wasn't enough tissue in the world to help me.

But that wasn't the worst of it.

"Play that again," Julia said when it was finished. "I missed some of it while I was turning around to get my coffee."

They played it again. I didn't watch this time, but with only a cubicle partition between us I heard every scream. Susan didn't say a word either time it played.

"Susan, what's wrong with you?" Julia asked after the second showing. "This video mess you up that bad?"

"Yeah, it did," Susan said quietly.

"Why?" Julia seemed honestly confused, "It didn't seem a s real as this movie I watched one time where they cut a whole guy up."

"I got a conscience, Julia," Susan said a little more assertively. "That's why."

"I got a conscience, too, but man, it wasn't nothing," Julia grew dismissive. "I didn't even get to see any blood. Besides, he knew what he was getting into when he went over there. He ought to be glad that's all he got."

The secretary for Saint Leo University, the school we share office space with at the fort, came in about that time.

"Hey, Mary," Julia said excitedly, "come over a here a minute I got to show you something."

"What you got to show me?"

"We got the video of that fella got his head cut off."

They played it again, so I had to leave. I couldn't listen to the screams and the peanut gallery, too.

"I'm going to lunch," I said.

"Bring me back some chicken salad," Julia said as I walked out, "I'll pay you for it."

A few weeks ago, I had to work a Friday at the fort. I've been re-reading Stephen King's Salem's Lot to get ready for his latest book The Wolves of the Calla (it apparently has Father Callahan as a major character, so I wanted to catch up).

Julia walked in to ask me a question and saw the book on my desk.

"You read that Stephen King stuff?" she asked.

"Yeah," I said. "It's pretty good."

She shook her head slowly and grunted. "Any body write stuff like that's gotta have something wrong with'em. Don't it scare you?"

"I don't get scared by fiction,' I replied. "Real life's scary enough for me."

Wednesday, May 12, 2004

God weeps.

Monday, May 10, 2004

Human beings can be awfully cruel to one another.

-Huck Finn

Tuesday, May 04, 2004

Hey guys. Still working on other projects right now, so not much time for the blog.

However, Uncle Lev has not forgotten about you; he's brought some alternative reading material for you loyal readers.


This comes from Chad Fifer at the thesimon.com.