As I write this blog, I am nearing the end of my week-long family vacation in Palm Desert. While we’ve had lots of fun splashing around in the pool, everywhere I turn I am bombarded by scenes and memories of violence.
Vignette #1: We left on Sunday, July 14–the morning after a jury in Florida found George Zimmerman not guilty of second-degree murder and manslaughter. Regardless of what one thinks about the outcome, including the role(s) that race played in the altercation itself or the jury’s deliberations, the fact remains that 17-year old Trayvon Martin died as a result of gun violence (among other factors). That alone is something we should all grieve.
Vignette #2: I like to catch up on news while on vacation but nearly regretted doing so when I came across
this horrific story that took place in northeastern Brazil during a recent soccer match. On June 30, a 20-year old referee (Otavio Jordao da Silva) expelled 31-year old player Josenir Santos Abreu from a game, the two got into a fist fight, and then the referee pulled a knife and stabbed the player in the chest, who then died on his way to the hospital. Why the ref was carrying a knife in the first place remains unclear.
The story quickly turns more grisly–a mob (comprised of angry players and spectators) stormed the field, stoned the referee to death, quartered his body, decapitated him, and then stuck his severed head on a stake in the middle of the field. I am at a total loss for words about this incident.
Vignette #3: This morning, while browsing our hotel’s complimentary coffee table book about what to see, do, and eat in Palm Springs, I was struck by the glamorization of violence I read on one of their glossy pages. I reproduce it below in full:
Frank Sinatra used to hoist a Jack Daniels flag to alert his Palm Springs Movie Colony neighbors–including Al Jolson, Jack Benny, and Cary Grant–that it was cocktail time. At this 1947 midcentury modern house designed by E. Stewart Williams, Sinatra reputedly threw then-wife Ava Gardner’s possessions onto the driveway after she tried to catch him with Lana Turner. Visitors to the house always look for the chip in the sink where Sinatra famously threw a bottle in a rage.
You can see it, too. You can even rent the four-bedroom, seven bath Twin Palms Estate for a fun getaway for $2600 a night (there’s a three-night minimum and a $350 service fee).
Of course, I get that interest in seeing the Twin Palms Estate is tied to celebrity worship and an appreciation for a particular style of architecture more than a love for violence per se, but I am troubled that tales of marital discord and violence presumably “up” the attractiveness quotient of this site.
Vignette #4: Now closer to home, I am sad to report the lure of our culture of violence in my boys, ages 3 and 5, as well. As parents, our “no toy weapons” policy has meant that we’ve never bought them what so many of their peers have to keep cool in the summer–water toy guns. But in preparation for this trip, what we did instead was buy each of them a shark-themed water squirter.
While they have been gleefully playing with their new toys on this trip, that hasn’t not stopped them from eyeing with envy, and asking to “have a turn” with, the water bazookas and AK47 water guns that other boys at the pool have been daily playing with. Apparently, military-style weaponry, even of the toy variety, is just too tempting for my boys to pass up.
While on vacation and in this intense heat, I’ve no major insights to share about what unites or underlies these four vignettes, save my sadness about the violence surrounding me and my commitment as a pacifist to eschew it in all forms.
Grace Yia-Hei Kao is Associate Professor of Ethics at Claremont School of Theology. She is the author of Grounding Human Rights in a Pluralist World (Georgetown University Press, 2011) and is working on two co-edited book projects–one on Asian American Christian Ethics, the other on a theological exploration of women’s lives.