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An exhibition with Indrani Pal-Chaudhuri exploring the intersection of fame, fantasy, and issues of social justice and human rights

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Mass Shootings and the Quest for Fame

A conversation about the representation of mass violence from David Bowie to Parkland, with survivor and activist Samantha Fuentes

Fields of Knowledge
  • Health / Sustainability
  • Performance
  • Social Justice

Organizing Institutions

Slought, Penn Social Justice & Arts Integration Initiative

Organizers

Indrani Pal-Chaudhuri

Opens to public

12/13/2019

Time

6:30-8:30pm

Address

Slought
4017 Walnut St
Philadelphia, PA 19104

On the web

philajustice.org

Slought and the SP2 Social Justice and Arts Integration Initiative at the University of Pennsylvania are pleased to announce "Mass Shootings and the Quest for Fame," a public conversation on Friday, December 13, 2019 from 6:30-8:30pm. The event will explore how the quest for fame motivates mass shooters, and will feature survivor and activist Samantha Fuentes and cultural anthropologist Eric Montgomery in conversation, and will be moderated by artist Indrani Pal-Chaudhuri. The event will conclude with a concluding performance of "Freedom" by Nina Lee, written in response to the Parkland shooting.

In Valentine's Day (2013), David Bowie explores the mind of a high school shooter. The last single released during his lifetime, the video has inspired considerable debate. Do the shadows of his guitar look like an AK47? Does his pose mirror former NRA president Charlton Heston's "cold dead hands" salute? What is the message that Bowie sought to bequeath to us? And what are we to make of the fact that on Valentine's Day 2018, a gunman at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida fired on students and staff in a manner that echoed Bowie's song?

Samantha Fuentes was one of those wounded in the Parkland shooting. Along with bullet shrapnel permeating her body, PTSD, survivor's guilt, and death threats, she has gained a powerful resolve to fight gun violence, and to uplift the voices of the silenced. She uses social media to push for change in gun laws, and tours the country speaking out to prevent mass shootings. Honored as a symbol of hope, alongside Hollywood stars and literary heroes, she has become a celebrity speaker on mass shootings. What does it mean and what is the personal cost for a survivor to become a personification of resistance to gun violence?

The alleged gunman, too, has become a celebrity from the killings. "When you see me on the news, you'll know who I am," Nikolas Cruz' video announced prior to the massacre. A fan of the Columbine shooters, he is followed by his own disturbing subculture, "Cruzers" and the "Niko Community." So how do we stop the escalation of mass shootings? What if we follow Bowie's suggestion and explore the minds of the shooters themselves? While research shows mass shooters often have narcissistic tendencies and histories of domestic violence and misogyny, they very rarely have diagnosable mental illnesses. And while the number of Americans killed in mass shootings has grown dramatically over the past half century, the number of shootings has remained constant since the '80s. Is it a coincidence that the amount of victims and body-counts correlates to which killings receive extensive reporting on by the media? We know that most mass shooters study previous killers and strategize, sometimes with spreadsheets, about how to increase the number of victims and maximize media exposure. Is the quest for social capital and power through fame to blame? Can denying perpetrators the celebrity they seek by not reporting on their names help bring an end to this epidemic of mass violence?

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On February 14, 2018 a gunman entered Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School and fired on students, faculty, and staff, killing seventeen people. Samantha Fuentes was amongst the injured in the Parkland tragedy, her body and life changed forever. She has bullet shrapnel permanently embedded in her legs and behind her right eye, and currently manages symptoms of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). She lost revered friends and faculty members. Despite these tragic events, today, Samantha is resolved and committed to a poignant mission: to prevent gun violence.

Samantha Fuentes is a survivor, not only of gun violence, but of racism, bullying, parental alcoholism, domestic abuse, and attempted suicide. She works closely with Angel Faces, an organization that serves girls who have endured all types of trauma. Her life experiences have tasked her to champion the importance of human rights and equality. Her objective: to uplift the voices of the silenced, and remind us that ALL our experiences matter regardless of color, religion, gender, age, or sexual orientation. Samantha wants to rally bystanders to participate in change when they witness injustice, because anything is possible in numbers.

Eric Montgomery, PhD, is a Cultural Anthropologist, Assistant Professor and advisor in Peace and Justice Studies at Michigan State University. He is also a Faculty member in the Center for Peace and Conflict Studies at Wayne State University in Detroit. His recent research and publications include Islamophobia and problems with countering violent extremism, human trafficking and modern slavery, global health disparities, critical race theory, race and space, nuclear disarmament, social movements and digital story-telling.

Initiated as a diviner and priest in several African religions, he is the author and editor of books including Shackled Sentiments: Spirits, Slaves and Memories in the African Diaspora (Rowman and Littlefield, 2019), Ethnography of a Vodu Shrine in Southern Togo (BRILL, 2017), and Global Vodun: Spirit Service in Haiti and Africa (forthcoming Indiana University Press, 2020). He is also the director and producer of two films, Chasing the Spirit and African Herbsmen stemming from ethnographic research in Western Africa.