By: Edgar O'Connell
There seem to be an increasing number of things (like soy milk, cartoon frogs, and Captain Marvel) that have a certain property: depending on your opinion of them, someone else can likely ascertain your position in the ongoing culture war between (broadly speaking) left-of-center urbanites and right-of-center countrymen. A recent battleground of this culture war has been the situation regarding Alec Baldwin. To generalize (and straw-man) the right wing position, Baldwin showed his true, hypocritical, liberal colors by murdering a poor soul in cold blood. To liberals, the actor who recently lampooned former President Trump on SNL was simply in the wrong place at the wrong time, a true victim of unfortunate circumstances alongside Halyna Hutchins, the woman who died from the fatal shooting.
So, which side is correct? It’s easy to see that the right’s reactionary sentiment is incredibly flawed. Of course Baldwin did not kill Hutchins on purpose. He didn’t even—in the moment—act recklessly, as he had been clearly told that the prop gun he was handling was cold, meaning it would not fire a live round. So, on those grounds, Baldwin is innocent. But, like so much with American politics, ruling out the ridiculous right wing sentiment does not dispositively prove the liberals’ case. To uncover the reality of the situation, it’s necessary to view the events leading up to the fatal shooting from the perspective of the workers.
Prior to the date of the shooting, camera crew members walked off set in protest of unsafe working conditions, including a lack of proper prop gun safety. The production company running the set where the shooting occurred refused to listen to the workers’ complaints, even bringing in nonunion crew members to replace members of the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees after the union workers brought attention to the lack of safety. So, one might ask,
which individual was in charge of this production company and ultimately responsible for marching on past workers’ pleas? None other than Alec Baldwin.
While it would be wrong and simplistic to hold Baldwin accountable for premeditated murder, it would also be wrong to let him off scot-free. By disregarding the concerns of union workers, Baldwin assumed responsibility for the stochastically inevitable consequences of his decision. Even if it wasn’t from a gun Baldwin held, even if it wouldn’t be on a set managed by his production company—repeatedly disregarding worker safety concerns raises the probability of a tragedy occurring. And as a probability is increasingly raised, it approaches certainty. While it does not make his actions on set in the moment criminal, the fact that Baldwin held the murder weapon puts a darkly poetic spin on the immense tragedy of the situation and echoes Baldwin’s detached, yet starkly tangible, role in Hutchins’ death.
Balwdin’s innocence of 1st degree murder should not detract from us finding him ultimately responsible. Philosopher Slavoj Žižek often highlights a line that Groucho Marx’s Rufus T. Firefly says in the film Duck Soup: “Gentlemen, Chicolini here may talk like an idiot and look like an idiot, but don't let that fool you: he really is an idiot.” Žižek’s point in highlighting this line is that we cannot rule out a possibility just because the underlying evidence is, legitimately, too good to be true. Applied here, we see that the falsehood of the right’s particular accusation of Baldwin being a murderer does not show Baldwin’s innocence. Alec Baldwin may shoot a gun like a murderer, and he may look like a murderer, but don’t let that fool you: he really is a murderer.