She left a voice mail saying she works in University Hall at UT, but she left no name or contact number. That means she was looking to vent, not open a civil conversation.
She was distraught over last week’s Toledo Free Press cover, a photo illustration of a raised gun headed toward the UT clock tower. In red, commanding letters, the words “God Forbid” summed up the sentiment.
I received the emotional thrust of her message, loud and clear. She went so far as to say the cover illustration could inspire someone to act out the scenario, which I will argue is an insupportable and hysterical overreaction, in the context of the reality of Va. Tech.
She was one of a vocal minority. I know these few people do not speak for all of UT.
If I sound contemptuous of these specific few people, it’s not because I lack respect for their feelings and opinions, it’s because I am critical for their inability to understand the context of their own feelings and opinions. When they say the cover was disturbing, in bad taste and offensive, I agree. That was the limpid intention and point of the cover.
After nearly a week of numbing footage and discussion about the Va. Tech. shootings, our story about the local universities needed a doorway that would not blend in with the jaded barrage of images being tuned out.
The cover image is my responsibility. I sketched out the idea and commissioned the illustration. It wasn’t intended to placate or soothe or gently ease readers into the story. It was meant to make you queasy, upset and angry. To outrage you. To make you think about a “what if” that should shake you to your core. Anything less would be an insult to the Va. Tech. victims and their families.
What happened April 16 at Va. Tech. was heinous. Dozens of promising young lives were wasted, just thrown away, by one stupid bastard.
Every electronic newsroom and print newsroom in America was checking with local universities and colleges to see what plans are in place to deal with an event that is virtually impossible to prevent. It’s not a tornado, with an early warning system in place. An insect with a gun and the will to kill does not issue a news release in advance.
The idea of such a tragedy happening here is horrific, but not science fiction. The pain and loss of the Toledo connection to the Va. Tech. murders, Kevin Granata, is as close as I hope God and the universe ever bring us to such misery.
But to pretend it can’t happen here is foolish, reckless and dangerous.
The responsibility for the Va. Tech. murders falls squarely on the punk who did the shootings. The responsibility for the next such act falls squarely on the freak who commits it. And the next. And the next. Last week’s cover is a reflection of the past, not a crystal ball of the future. Highly educated and rational people should understand, even as they recognize the gut-punch the cover was meant to deliver.
One angry UT grad student sent an e-mail and proclaimed she threw the paper in the trash. Great intellectual response. Go ahead; throw it away. Pretend the problem and potential do not exist. Ignore it, and it will go away, right?
Bad taste on my part? Guilty. Bad judgment? No. Calculated judgment. The resulting discussion, over-reactionary as it may be, vindicates the judgment.
I will not be the one to stand by quietly while there is sleepwalking happening. This threat, as random and vague as it is, requires vigilance and intellectual energy, not knee-jerk “I don’t wanna know” misdirected anger.
Again, I know these few reactionary people do not speak for all of UT. There’s no intent here to imply UT falls short in its efforts to protect its students or that the university is in any way lacking in its safety and security measures.
My argument is with a select few people who have allowed their unchecked emotions to rule their response, instead of taking the time to consider the cover’s intent and explore their reactions to it.
Those few of you who suggested I should be fired for designing the cover are in particular need of self-examination; maybe you should be fired for whatever you’ve done today that I do not agree with. I’m sure there is a lot to choose from.
So be mad at me, without ever inviting a civil conversation.
It’s great to know one or two Chicken Littles stifle and curse freedom of expression and provocative methods of dealing with tragedy and threat. Go back to sleep and pretend none of this happened. Cover your eyes and ears so you won’t have to hear about it the next time it happens.