Monday, September 15, 2014

A bloody mess

The image, 44 years along now, is burned into our national psyche. Every montage from the '60s contains it, ignoring the calendar as the '60s themselves did, lasting as they did well beyond the 10 years allotted.

And so: May 4, 1970. Kent State University.

On the ground, facedown, clearly lifeless, lies a mop-haired college kid, blood coursing in a gory stream from beneath his head toward the edge of the pavement.

Kneeling next to him, wailing, another young person, a 14-year-old runaway from Florida who would later be identified as May Ann Vecchio.

Mary Ann Vecchio is still alive. She's my age. Wonder what she thinks of Urban Outfitters' brilliant new  idea.

Which is this, a Kent State sweatshirt spattered with fake blood. Ha-ha. Chortle, chortle. That there's a knee-slapper, yessiree.

Unless you're Mary Ann Vecchio that is. Unless you're the relatives of the four students killed that day in a 67-shot fusillade by the National Guard -- three of whom were doing nothing more lawless than walking to class, and one of whom, irony of ironies, was in the ROTC.

The ROTC -- the burning of its building on campus -- was what sparked the student unrest that got the National Guard called in to begin with. Most of them were just kids themselves. And so when they were confronted by angry students, they panicked and opened fire. In surviving photos, you can see their commanding officer beating them over the head to get them to stop.

But four people died before they did. And in the national mind, that will always be the thing for which Kent State is remembered, fair or not.

So you can understand why university officials aren't too happy with Urban Outfitters right now. And you can understand why a storm of criticism has descended upon their clueless heads. And you can only hope, if you're old enough to remember May 4, 1970, that whatever genius came up with the Bloody Kent State idea is pounding the pavement today, looking for a job as a Wal-Mart greeter or some such thing.

Or, maybe not. Our capacity for glorifying violence and tragedy, or at least trying to make a buck  off it, seems to have increased tenfold in the last decade or so. Tasteless, spun as "cutting edge," sells these days. And if there's outrage at a man cold-cocking his fiancé or beating a 4-year-old with a tree branch or getting shot by some peawit with a gun while taking his kids to school, there's also plenty of those who'll stand up for the perpetrators.

Witness all the fans in Baltimore the other night wearing Ray Rice jerseys -- including, most pathetically, women. Witness the woman in the parking lot outside the Vikings stadium Sunday wearing an Adrian Peterson jersey and carrying a switch. And those are just couple examples.

All I know is this: When some of us at Ball State back in the day used to call the Kent State Golden Flashes the Kent State Muzzle Flashes, thinking we were being "funny,"we had an excuse. We were just dumb college kids with all the human empathy and self-awareness of an airborne virus.

What's Urban Outfitters' excuse?


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