Murder makes the man
At 14, I was playing my Nintendo with fierce intensity. I was just beginning high school, with all its forced, torturous self and sexual awareness. I believed I was a mature adult, even as I struggled to fit in and make sense of the hundred, if not thousands, of conflicting messages that crossed in front of my path on any average day.
I was concerned with newly formed, lofty ideals while simultaneously being concerned with the annoyingly mundane aspects of teenage life: facial blemishes, the right shoes, the newest music. My teenage life: lamented, lauded, romanticized after the fact, but definitely and never definitively what any rational person would consider one of an adult.
So, it is with total amazement that I have to recognize that we, as a people, have allowed our criminal justice system to consider our 14-year-olds adults. We try them as such, we punish them as such and somehow we continue to spread the hypocritical message throughout our culture that only select 14-year-olds are still children.
When you were 14 did you act, think or consider things as you did when you were 18, 25 or 50? Of course, age can be somewhat of an arbitrary unit. Look at any high school gym class – Bob is a man at 15 and Bobby is still quite a boy. However, the enculturating experience of the two are still remarkably similar. So how is it that a 14-year old boy that murders his teacher (obviously distressing and dreadful) is transformed into what we call an adult? Is the very act of horrific violence what we consider one of our cultural thresholds to adulthood? A pull of a trigger, unlike a rock through a window or fist in the face, has remade the child into an adult?
I have never committed any act of serious violence, so which event made me the man that I am? How did I pass into adulthood without my violent episode?Our system demands that parents work first, parent second and allow pop culture to become the surrogate of the children of this nation. That “pop-cultural parent” never tells a child not to kill, not to pull a trigger, not to resort to gun-slinging and macho bravado. In fact, it supplies the very training and the very tools, and we look away when (gasp!) the make-believe world of violence, torture and death somehow begins to dictate the “real world.”
Yet, instead of looking into the shockingly truthful mirror, we miraculously change our children into adults. A “real” American child could never be so callous, so awful, so murderous – only we as adults could, right? These same adults who fashion the latest toy weapon; who pump up on screen and blast away anyone who threatens their fragile American masculinity; who cry censorship when their violent “art” that blinds and entrances the 12-year-old is critiqued? But that 14-year-old boy, embarrassed in front if his friends, his masculinity threatened by “another” adult, and, most telling of all, with a weapon in his hand we should have known better. He is an adult, after all, and that is what we expect from adults, right?