American Homicide

Sunday, December 6, 2009 Leave a Comment

Quite a title for a theatre blog, yes, but a new book by Randolph Roth of the same title posits a fascinating link between homicide rates and faith in government. Sifting through four centuries of history, his research points to one consistent connection: when individuals trust their government, homicide rates fall. When they don't, they rise; and Roth links this relationship to America's persistently high homicide rates. To quote:

"The predisposition to murder is rooted in feelings and beliefs people have toward government and their fellow citizens...It is these factors, which may seem impossibly remote from murder, that hold the key to understanding why the United States is so homicidal today."
Read the whole article here. What emerges is that the predisposition to murder may be linked to a narrative of social distrust. While the methodologies described in the article seem perilously open to interpretation, there is a potential takeaway for theatre makers. Those narratives of social distrust should be wrestled with in our work, increasing our mutual capacity for imaginative empathy, and creating the possibility for civic compassion.

This doesn't mean that theatre is responsible for, or capable of, lowering murder rates; nor that theatre should indulge in feel-good message plays. Quite the opposite: imaginative empathy only matters when the devil of violence is given its full due; and the necessity of civic compassion only becomes clear when opposed against its opposite. But as this blog continues to explore the conceptual case for theatre as an integral part of democracy, this seemed a good article to highlight.


  • Cole Matson said:  

    Next month, for the 3rd year in a row, Single Carrot Theater in Baltimore (the city I just moved from) will perform Murder Ink, in which they read the names of every homicide victim in Baltimore and the circumstances of their murders in the last year. This year they're doing it on the street outside their theatre, which is on a busy avenue where a low-income neighborhood runs up against a neighborhood undergoing gentrification. The idea is to provide a connection between the audience and the lives of these victims, so that they're inspired to do something about it. (The murder rate in Baltimore is 7 times higher than NYC's, even though the population is 1/10th the size.) Here's some more info: http://baltimore.broadwayworld.com/article/Single_Carrot_Presents_Third_Annual_MURDER_INK_1152010_20010101.