King’s Clown Rampaged in Orlando

Pennywise, the clown in IT

Pennywise, the clown in IT

Friday

Perhaps no one understands what happened last weekend in Orlando better than Stephen King. The largest mass slaughter of Americans since 9-11 could easily appear in the pages of IT. I’m particularly thinking of the White Council’s attack on a nightclub called The Black Spot.

Have you noticed that killers often target people who are having a good time—or at least, who appear to be living contented lives? The killers’ rage is fueled by their sense that they are somehow excluded. Although we can never entirely understand a killer’s motivation, Omar Mateen’s homophobia may have arisen out of his own repressed homosexuality and his guilty desire to be partying with those he killed.

Previous poets have diagnosed the condition. For instance, here’s the Beowulf poet describing Grendel:

Then a powerful demon, a prowler through the dark,
nursed a hard grievance. It harrowed him
to hear the din of the loud banquet
every day in the hall, the harp being struck
and the clear song of a skilled poet . . .

And as I noted in a past post on the Tucson killing, such is also the case with Milton’s Satan as he gazes upon Adam and Eve:

[A]side the Devil turned
For envy, yet with jealous leer malign
Eyed them askance, and to himself thus plained:
“Sight hateful, sight tormenting! Thus these two
Imparadised in one another’s arms
The happier Eden, shall enjoy their fill
Of bliss on bliss, while I to Hell am thrust,
Where neither joy nor love, but fierce desire,
Among our other torments not the least,
Still unfulfilled with pain of longing pines . . .

The incident in IT involves a bar set up in the woods of Maine by black servicemen in the early 1930s. They assemble a good Dixieland jazz band that begins drawing white and well as black customers. This catches the attention of the local white supremacist group:

[W]e underestimated how bad things might get. We all knew that Mueller and his friends must have known what was going on, but I don’t think any of us realized that it was drivin em crazy—and I mean what I say: crazy. There they were in their grand old Victorian houses on West Broadway not a quarter of a mile away from where we were, listening to things like “Aunt Hagar’s Blues” and “Diggin My Potatoes.” That was bad. Knowing that their young people were there too, whooping it up right cheek by jowl with the blacks, that must have been ever so much worse. Because it wasn’t just the lumberjacks and the barbags that were turning up as September came into October. It got to be a kind of thing in town. Young folks would come to drink and to dance to that no-name jazz-band until one in the morning came and shut us down…You could see fraternity boys from the University of Maine at Orono cutting capers with their sorority girlfriends, and when the band learned how to play a ragtime version of “The Maine Stein Song,” they just about ripped the roof off.

Eventually the white supremacists set fire to the nightclub and what follows sounds like a version of what happened last Saturday in Orlando. King, of course, is famous for conveying such horror and, if you’ll excuse me, I’ll spare you the description. Our own horror is still too fresh in my mind.

I’ll just note the manic clown who is behind the fire—IT—is a dark streak of violence that runs through American history. At other points in the novel, IT is behind the mauling of a child, the savage killing of a young gay man, the slaughter of a group of gangsters, and other horrific bloodlettings. IT is the force that the protagonists must confront, first when they are kids and then again when they are adults. King regards homophobia, racism, anti-Semitism, and other such expressions of fear and hatred as American as apple pie.

King also believes that a significant number of Americans tolerate the National Rifle Association’s extremism because the gun group appeals to a deep rage. Although we are told that most Americans want common sense gun reform, the behavior of our politicians tells a different story. They are doing what many voters, at their core, want them to do.

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