Cultural emptiness feeds into recent tragedies

Column by Michael Alcorn
Posted 6/19/18

Third week of June: Four shot in the parking lot of a dentist office in Westminster following a traffic altercation. Second week of June: two celebrity suicides. Third week of May: mass shooting at …

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Cultural emptiness feeds into recent tragedies


Third week of June: Four shot in the parking lot of a dentist office in Westminster following a traffic altercation.

Second week of June: two celebrity suicides.

Third week of May: mass shooting at Santa Fe H.S. in Texas.

Fourth week of April: local teenager commits suicide (a line, by the way, which could be written just about every week of the year).

Second week of February: mass shooting at Marjorie Stoneman-Douglas H.S. in Florida.

Fourth week of January: celebrity suicide.

This is a brief recap of the year that has been 2018, if you simply eliminate all news related to President Trump. Sort of a “This Week from Hell” recap.

That, my friends, is not a healthy list. Or, to be more precise, is not a list that indicates a healthy society. And I even left off the daily list of non-school mass shootings, which has entries nearly every day of the year.

If you did not see Kirsten Powers’ column in the USA Today this past weekend, you should look it up. It is insightful. While she is careful to differentiate actual chemical imbalances and the difficulties of sudden shifts in fortune, Powers concludes her column with this: “…most Americans are depressed, anxious or suicidal because something is wrong with our culture, not because something is wrong with them.”

I’ve actually been saying this for some time, though mostly in the context of the mass shootings. I had never considered, until I read that column, that mass shootings and suicide are flip sides of the same coin. That empty, desperate feeling, for some, manifests itself as violence towards others; for others, it manifests as violence towards themselves.

But, the reality of the emptiness is true for both.

Powers alludes to Jim Carrey in her column. Most people know Carrey as the manic comedic actor with the elastic face. What most people don’t know is that Carrey has admitted to having been suicidal in the past. By way of explanation, Carrey has said the following:

I think everybody should get rich and famous and do everything they ever dreamed of so they can see that it’s not the answer.

I think we’ve been sold a bill of goods, and we bought it hook, line and sinker. I don’t know when it began, but it’s probably not that important — this “bill” has had bipartisan support in Washington, D.C., and has been peddled by presidents of both parties.

It has had the support of Hollywood, Broadway, and middle America. It is the most popular political cultural idea of the last three centuries. Heck, there’s even a famous “Christian” pastor of a mega-church in Texas who peddles the idea that simply believing in God enough will bring this bill into being.

What is this bill? This bill says that more is more is better. That you can replace the difficult, hard-earned things of significance in your life with relatively easy-to-purchase *things* of significance (if you’re willing to work 60 hours a week to earn them). That everything is disposable and replaceable and instant, from your coffee to your job to your employees to your friends to your spouse to your gratification. And if you don’t like something, change it out; if that doesn’t work, then sue; and eventually, you will be happy.

Except that you’re not. And when you realize that you aren’t living the life you were promised by the bill, then you reach that empty, desperate place that has one in six adult Americans on some sort of anti-depressant medication according to a report in JAMA in 2016.

There are things of significance, even some things of eternal significance, that have been left behind in this culture. And most of them are personal, are matters of touch and connection and relationship, and none of them are in your phone. They are in the world. They are in the eyes and smiles of your children, and your friends, and your elderly neighbors, and the veteran who lives down the street, and they can be found and rediscovered around backyard barbecues and bonfires and sunsets.

Go. Find them. Save yourself.

Michael Alcorn is a teacher and writer who lives in Arvada with his wife and three children. His novels are available at His opinions are not necessarily those of Colorado Community Media.


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