In the wake of last week’s tragic Boston Marathon bombing, and through the manhunt and standoff that followed, the media and the general public have found themselves shocked, frightened, confused, speculative, and angry. Americans, human beings, feel these emotions each to varying degrees and have expressed their feelings in ways as distinct as fingerprints. We are united by our common sense of being fundamentally wronged and by the fact that this terrible event has occurred and is unalterably a part of the world in which, fortunately, we all continue to live. As of the writing of this piece, we still know very little about why the individuals who are accused of this heinous crime proceeded as they did. What we do know is that, whether there were 100 individuals involved or only two, we are dealing with people who – regardless of their motives and/or mental health – are likely to receive very little empathy from the majority.
One person who has chosen to express her feelings about the event in a very public manner is the oft controversial singer, songwriter, and gadfly Amanda Palmer. Sunday, Palmer posted “A Poem for Dzhokhar” on her blog, which enjoys a cult-like regular following. Over the ensuing 24 hours, and indeed still today, the poem – with each line beginning “you don’t know” and seemingly addressing the surviving suspect for whom the poem is named – has been the source of much heated discussion. Many have accused Palmer of being insensitive to the victims of the bombing and their families or of presuming to know the mind of a young man who she’s never met. Others have championed her courage and humanity in showing empathy for an accused murderer. Still others have echoed her empathetic stance while condemning her timing and the way in which she presented this piece to the public.
For her part, Palmer has refused to disown her post or even to concede the possibility of it being in poor taste. This morning, she posted a follow-up blog to clarify her intentions, her inspirations, and what she sees as the value in the debates her poem sparked. She argues that the poem isn’t even wholly about the 19-year-old bombing suspect Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, but that it is as much about her or the rest of us. She also, rather paradoxically considering her attempts to deny that the poem is about Dzhokhar, argues that we should be capable of feeling empathy towards everyone, even suspected killers. Lastly, she argues that the poem – coming in the middle of National Poetry Month – is just her way of dealing with the world that she lives in and applauds the many positive and negative response poems it spawned.
In this writer’s opinion, the context in which Palmer published her poem and her general tendency to seek publicity for herself, make the overall act seem contrived, shallow, and just short of deplorable. Considering the fact that, as a poem, the piece is fairly trite – I do concede that it has helped encourage some important discussion. But I am not willing to pretend that Palmer’s ‘innocent artist’ routine isn’t underpinned by a deep-seated longing to ride any available coattails to further her own fame. Remember when she – an avid feminist – had the chance to defend Erykah Badu against the douche-baggery that is Wayne Coyne? Remember how, instead, she jumped at the chance to replace Badu in that boring-yet-racy video?
I fully agree with Palmer that empathy for the bad guy is an important step for us all to master. Furthermore, I agree that art has no limits and personal expression should be permitted and encouraged no matter how many people it offends. But I’m calling bullshit on her sincerity and lamenting the general vapidity of her poem. If she wants to have a discussion about these things, perhaps she could attempt to do so in ways that are not so conveniently generative of page views for her website.
How about you? Read up and tell us what you think in the comments below.