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Jane Ahlin, Published January 16 2011

Ahlin: In the aftermath of Tucson, truth stranger than fiction

Consider the notion that had the tragic shooting in Arizona been a movie, critics would have given it two or three stars for great heart but panned it for too many unbelievable plot lines. The critical consensus? “Tragedy in Tucson” tried to do too much.

Think about it. Screenwriters logically could decide to make the congresswoman a bright, smiley, well-liked Blue Dog Democrat whose office had been vandalized months before the shooting and even have her express concern about the violent imagery her political opponents were using.

Screenwriters also could give her an astronaut husband, although it’s a bit over the top for the husband to be assigned to command the next crew to the International Space Station (where his own brother just happens to be). It might be more realistic to make the husband a college physics professor or … oh, gee … a volleyball coach?

On the other hand, movie audiences wouldn’t blink an eye at an unhinged shooter with a Glock 19 and a 33-round cartridge. There are a dozen characters like that on TV every night of the week.

As for the shooter’s mental derangement and/or schizophrenia? Judging by America’s entertainment culture, every third check-out kid at the grocery store is afflicted.

Viewers might balk at having the congresswoman shot in the head at point-blank range since it stretches credulity that anybody survives that kind of head wound. Then, too, when the shooter goes to reload, audiences would find it acceptable for three guys to knock him down, but they might think there’d be a more realistic choice than a petite, white-haired, 61-year-old woman to grab the replacement clip before the shooter can get it into the gun. (Really, if a woman were cast for the part, wouldn’t she be a darned sight younger and look like Angelina Jolie?)

And don’t forget the supporting cast – characters who add interest to the movie without commanding too much attention. In casting the victims, the hardworking young congressional staffer, the grandpa with the RV and the great-grandma who quilts all would pass muster. But why would the writers have the only child killed in the melee be a little girl who was born on Sept. 11, 2001? Can’t you just hear a critic say, “Talk about hitting us over the head with tragic irony.”

More than that, would the writers make the hero in the piece a 20-year-old Hispanic intern who’s both openly gay and a naturalized citizen? I mean, the setting isn’t New York; it’s Arizona, where the senior senator vehemently opposed the repeal of “don’t ask, don’t tell” (the military policy concerning gays) and where the sitting governor wants to pass a bill both forcing Hispanics to carry proof of citizenship and giving police authority to demand to see their papers. How would the senior senator explain a gay kid rushing into the fray instead of running away, and how believable would it be for the writers to have that governor lead a standing ovation for the 20-year-old Hispanic guy whose life story points up the bigotry and discrimination of her legislation? It begs the question whether Disney does movies about gays and their immigrant families.

Be honest. No way is that movie getting two thumbs up. It’s just not convincing.

In fact, the old saw echoes: Truth is stranger than fiction.

In the aftermath of the Tucson tragedy, our nation is discussing big questions, questions about the toxic state of our national discourse and also about America’s apathy toward guns and gun violence, questions that should grow to include our attitudes toward legal and illegal immigrants and toward gay citizens.

We’d like to think political argument going forward will include more civility, that the tragedy will turn out to be a watershed moment when our whole culture resets itself for the better. Certainly, the ordinary – extraordinary – very real people who died and those who had their lives forever changed count for more than the blip of a heartbreaking news cycle and down the road, a bad movie.


Ahlin writes a Sunday column for The Forum’s commentary page.