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Looking for answers about ultraviolence

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Malcolm McDowell portrayed Alex in the 1971 film "A Clockwork Orange." (Warner Bros./AP Photo)

Malcolm McDowell portrayed Alex in the 1971 film “A Clockwork Orange.” (Warner Bros./AP Photo)

There’s a horrific scene – the first of many – in the darkly dystopian book and film, “A Clockwork Orange,” in which we meet four youths out one night looking for fun.

Fun, in this case, means beating the stuffing out of some random somebody – an evening of “ultraviolence,” as protagonist Alex, 15, calls it.

Alex and his three droogs (or buddies – “Orange” uses its own futuristic vocabulary) come across a homeless man drowsing drunkenly in a dark underpass and begin kicking and bludgeoning the man mercilessly, gleefully, sociopathically.

“I don’t want to live anyway, not in a stinking world like this one,” the homeless man says defiantly to his tormentors. “It’s a stinking world because it lets the young get on to the old like you done, and there’s no law nor order no more.”

The apocalyptic book, written by British author Anthony Burgess, was published in 1962; the celebrated and controversial Stanley Kubrick film followed in 1971.

Both book and film terrified and captivated my precocious teenage mind, intrigued as I was by Burgess’ gloomy and, I thought, implausible vision of the future as soulless, selfish and savage.

But lately it seems that Burgess’ prophecy is not as far off the mark and that the future – the future where homeless men are bloodied and beaten for fun, the future with no law nor order – is now.

What a stinking world.

We’ve tried to make sense of what happened Friday night in a dirt lot off Central and 60th NW, where three teenage boys are accused of taking turns smashing cinder blocks onto the heads of two homeless men as they slept on a discarded mattress.

Alex Rios, 18, Nathaniel Carrillo, 16, and Gilbert Tafoya, 15, also are accused of bashing the men with metal poles and kicking them so mercilessly – for an hour, according to what one of the boys told police – that when the beating was over the men’s faces were gone.

As if that weren’t enough, the criminal complaint describes how one of the boys told police that he and another boy smeared the men’s mutilated faces with dirt and snarled, “Eat mud, bitch.”

One boy also told police that they had beaten up as many as 50 other homeless people in the city, the complaint says.

How does that happen, this rage, this hatred? How did this Alex and his droogs find themselves charged with such callous disregard for life?

We search for a quick explanation to the horror, becoming armchair judges, psychologists, lawyers and lynch mob, pondering whom to blame, basing our snarling snap judgments on what we think we know about the case.

We blame the parents. We blame the system. We blame video games and violent movies and music. Some in the community have already decided it is appropriate to lock up the boys forever or stone them, shoot them, torture them in the same violent ways we condemn the boys for. The boys showed no mercy, some of us say. Why should we?

How about because we’re supposed to be the adults here.

Is it any wonder, really, that our children are growing up intolerant when we adults are so intolerant of one another? When we scream at one another on the correct way to execute a teenager? When we bully one another over guns and abortion? When we taunt and spit at and wave our flags in the faces of frightened children from other countries?

We fight over whether to stand with Israelis or Palestinians, Russia or the Ukraine, Hobby Lobby or Michaels, right or left, black or white. Politics turns us into monsters. Police scare us. Civil discourse, if the comments on any news story about the boys is any indication, is lost.

“I can’t even consider them human beings,” goes a typical posting about the boys. “They have no place on this planet.”

Many website commentators are certain these boys must be in the country illegally; another poster has already branded the boys serial killers, though there isn’t a shred of evidence to substantiate either allegation.

It’s mob rule in a country of adults who use words like cinder blocks. And if you disagree, you are labeled as too sympathetic or too stupid.

We learn nothing, improve nothing, change nothing.

We teach our children nothing good that way.

The fact is, we don’t yet know the “why” behind what happened out there in that dirt lot. Perhaps we never will.

“What I do I do because I like to do,” Alex, the one in “A Clockwork Orange,” says in explaining why he commits acts of violence.

Those who have read the book or seen the movie know that Alex is eventually forced to undergo a government-sanctioned mind-control technique that makes him become nauseated when thoughts of violence enter his brain. The technique backfires horribly.

It is interesting to note that there are two endings to the story. In the British version, Alex matures on his own into a more loving, compassionate human who no longer needs ultraviolence to have fun.

In the U.S. version, Alex returns to his old ways of mayhem and immorality, learning nothing from his experiences.

Burgess has explained that the publisher believed Americans would like it better that way.

Sadly, he was probably right.

UpFront is a daily front-page news and opinion column. Comment directly to Joline at 823-3603, jkrueger@abqjournal.com or follow her on Twitter @jolinegkg. Go to ABQjournal.com/letters/new to submit a letter to the editor.

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