I wrote two columns for the Globe in the aftermath of the Boston Marathon bombings. The first — which I later read aloud on Australian radio — was about the jarring task of telling a child what happened. The second was about the quest to understand why a young man – not much older than a child – could do something like this.
Why do so many people want to understand Dzhokhar Tsarnaev? To find within him some speck of humanity?
That’s not an accusation; it’s a statement of fact. In the weeks since the Boston Marathon bombings — in columns, in tweets, in hushed and guilty conversations — there has been a widespread urge to get inside the suspect’s head, to imagine him somehow brainwashed, bullied, regretful. Not everyone feels this way, of course. But it’s not hard to view Tsarnaev differently from the 9/11 bombers, or from Jared Lee Loughner or Adam Lanza, two other young men who committed mass murder in recent months.
Those men, the common narrative goes, were sick. Distant. Separate. Tsarnaev was different. Before the mayhem, he seemed to be one of us.
This is a pressing mystery of the bombings, and the fact that we’re hunting for answers doesn’t mean we’re going soft. It doesn’t mean we aren’t angry.
It has to do with unanswered questions, both general and specific, and the hope that somehow, answers could prevent further attacks. How do small numbers of young men grow radicalized? How do they lose their humanity? How do they evolve from boys — with friends, parents, social lives — to killers?
Read the rest of the column here.
Manti Te’o and Katie Couric have the same publicist, which goes a long way toward explaining how Couric — as opposed to, say, Oprah — landed the first on-camera interview with Te’o yesterday on her syndicated talk show, “Katie.” It was an unmitigated success for Couric, whose ratings soared to their highest levels since her show’s debut. She has been praised for her willingness to ask follow-up questions, and for the fact that she seemed tough, channeling a nation’s skepticism about the world’s weirdest supposed love-story hoax.
Couric wasn’t Oprah, so she didn’t have that grand bearing, that Oprah-esque way of suggesting that someone has Wronged The Nation and Must Be Set Right.
But then, Te’o didn’t wrong a nation so much as he confused and unwittingly entertained it. So Couric’s demeanor fit: She was more like your high school friend’s nice-but-nosy mom, who would sit you down at the kitchen table and pour you a Coke and ask you probing questions about your life. With Te’o, she couldn’t believe the answers — not because she’s a journalist with a killer instinct, but because she’s a human being with a normal amount of sense in her head.
(Read the rest of my post from Boston.com’s The Angle blog here.)
SO I just watched the trailer for “Gangster Squad,” and it goes something like this: Gun, gun, shot of phallic-looking building, Ryan Gosling, gun, firefight, is that Nick Nolte?, firefight, guns getting handed out like candy, someone getting hit with a gun barrel, guy pointing gun in other guy’s face, gun, gun, firefight, explosion, raid involving guns, casings falling cinematically to the floor.
It’s two and a half minutes long, so I left out a lot of guns.
Less than a month after the Newtown tragedy, this is what Hollywood is peddling, without shame: A firearms-glorifying culture that competes, inside our brains, with the impulse to stop the spread of actual firearms. A few weeks ago, the group Mayors Against Illegal Guns posted a video featuring outraged-looking movie stars, urging the public to rally for gun control. Someone soon reposted it on YouTube, spliced with images of those actors shooting guns onscreen.
The blanket charge of hypocrisy wasn’t entirely fair. Some of those scenes were actually trying to spoof gun culture. Sometimes violence is used in the service of art. And studios wouldn’t make these movies if the public didn’t want them, right?
Well, maybe, maybe not.
(Read the rest of my Boston Globe column here.)
YOU’VE GOT to hand it to Oprah. She has established herself as America’s confessor, which, in a way, makes life easy for her interviewees. Oprah’s not going to absolve you or coddle you. She’s going to raise her eyebrows with majestic skepticism and speak grandly, for the nation. And so the person in her crosshairs — this week, Lance Armstrong — is freed to play his own expected part: the relieved confessee.
That’s how Armstrong tried to present himself for the last two nights, criticizing himself while displaying scant emotion, declaring — unconvincingly — that he’s happier now, with the truth laid bare, than he was when he was winning all those races.
The substance of his confession isn’t really news: He doped for years, lied about it, and vilified anyone who told the truth. That’s why the most instructive thing he said came Thursday night, when he offered a damning explanation of why he did it: not because he wanted to win, not because everyone else was doing it, but because he was too weak to put an end to the story he’d helped create. His was the “perfect” tale, he said, the athlete who beat cancer and went on to win the Tour de France seven times.
“Behind that picture, and behind that story, was momentum,” Armstrong said. “And I lost myself in all that.”
It was a clever statement, because it implicated the rest of us, too.
(Read the rest of the column from the Boston Globe here.)
Inspired by the Golden Globes. Written very quickly, in a burst of amusement and mild disgust. This column originally ran in the Boston Globe on January 15, 2013.
I WON! I won! And here I am, up here, looking down at all of you, and I’m so nervous! It’s terrifying to be adored during award season! I just don’t know what to say!
Luckily, I prepared this acceptance speech.
First, I have to thank this esteemed body of voters, which has been giving me these awards since I was a child. People say this is a second-tier award, but I don’t care, because everybody wants one anyway. Just look at that pop star across the room, glaring at me. She lost a few minutes ago, and now her soul is turning black.
Next, I’d like to thank my team: My manager Bob, my publicist Sue — I adore you, Sue — my folks at ICA, my peeps at CVS, Ms. Prunetta, who makes all of my daily style and juice decisions, and Orville, who gets my groceries.
…and why what they’re doing in Steubenville, Ohio is both problematic and incredibly hopeful. This column first ran on Tuesday, January 8 in the Boston Globe.
LAST WEEKEND, more than 1,000 people gathered in Steubenville, Ohio, a small town with a history of high school football glory, to support the victim of an alleged rape. These kinds of rallies happen from time to time, largely on college campuses. What made this one striking was the fact that many protesters were wearing Guy Fawkes masks.
Those masks are a trademark of Anonymous, the shadowy collective of hackers that has taken on Steubenville as a vigilante cause. In terms of criminal justice, this is far from ideal. But for our culture at large, it represents an unlikely glimmer of hope.