A Democratic Congresswoman is near death’s throes, shot in the head – so say the media – by a deranged assailant. I am here to offer a different perpetrator: culture. Our nation’s political vitriol and lowest common denominator journalism combined with our gun-toting ways to produce a cultural atmosphere that eerily resembles the make believe movie “Idiocracy.” Yes, the 2006 Hollywood flick that satirically warned of a future America, part crass, part hubris, part stupid, but which may actually already be here in 2011.

Actor Terry Crews playing President Camacho in the film "Idiocracy."

Don’t believe me? Let’s do some comparison shopping (so to speak). Compare the movie photo of actor Terry Crews as the gun-wielding President Camacho against the all too real billboard advertisement of Tea Party candidate Jesse Kelly, the former marine who ran against Giffords and lost just last November.

In the Idiocracy photo (sourced from imdb.com), actor Terry Crews sprays bullets from an automatic weapon on the floor of the senate chambers. In the Jesse Kelly online advertisement banner, the Tea Party candidate that ran against Gabrielle Gifford is seen toting a very similar weapon to that of Crews.

Meanwhile, the fourth estate, rather than searching for the truth behind complex issues, pitches a black and white, pro and con world that does not exist. It is media simplicity bent on masking the fact that – in the name of profits – news rooms are understaffed, and if (and that’s a big if) journalists are replaced, they are substituted with “entertainers” the likes of Limbaugh, Beck, Maddow and Olbermann. Ratings rule rather than any truth seeking discourse.

A Jesse Kelly for Congress Online Advertisement Banner for the November 2010 Election

Time columnist Joe Klein expressed today that “cable news plays a destructive role in the national debate.” Duh. Glenn Beck throws out ridiculous conspiracy theories like lawn fertilizer on a spring day.

The point that needs emphasizing, however, is that images and words do indeed possess potent, deep, and broad categorical meanings within a society’s collective framework. Cultural tangibles such as language, dress, the way we eat, our mannerisms, what we read, what music we listen to, the movies we watch, how we click our way through the internet, and a myriad of other practices that position societies within a defined set of cultural norms. All of these cultural elements (and those unnamed) exists reciprocally, constantly reinforcing or not reinforcing what is acceptable to the greater social fabric as a whole.

Take for example the repulsion held by many Americans of the leaked Abu Ghraib photos that captured the All-American-girl-that-lives-just-next-door lookalike, Lynndie England, pointing and smiling with a dangling cigarette at naked and harassed prisoners. This was outside of America’s cultural framework of what is or is not acceptable behavior.

Yet, our society has shifted toward the acceptance of allowing Beck’s crazy conspiracy theories to run amok, ratings to rule journalist integrity, and M-16 shoot political fundraisers. Is this our new norm? The answer may exist with a deranged 22 year old in Tuscon.