Sign up for our newsletters   

Baltimore City Paper home.

arts Home > Book Reviews


Going Postal: Rage, Murder, and Rebellion: From Reagan’s Workplaces to Clinton’s Columbine and Beyond

Going Postal: Rage, Murder, and Rebellion: From Reagan’s Workplaces to Clinton’s Columbine and Beyond

Author:Mark Ames
Release Date:2006
Publisher:Soft Skull

By Jess Harvell | Posted 2/22/2006

“The whole country is infested with this meanness and coldness,” Mark Ames writes toward the end of Going Postal, “and no one is allowed to admit it. Only the crazy ones sense that it is wrong—that what is ‘normal’ is not at all normal—and some of them, adults and kids alike, fight back with everything they have.”

Ames’ thesis is a simple one: Post-Reaganomics, we’re all slaves. And just like the slaves that once lived on plantations, mass rebellion—armed or otherwise—is accepted as impossible. But sometimes individuals do rise up, though their acts are construed as madness at the time. Ames wants to speed up history so that school and workplace massacres are recognized as modern slave rebellions.

It’s an intriguing theory, and certainly one you don’t hear thrown up alongside “the media” and “mental illness” and “bad hair day” when some poor bastard walks into the break room with a loaded AK-47. Ames spends more than 30 pages of Going Postal’s scant 240 discussing the history of slave rebellions, repeatedly hammering his theory home in a “do you see??” manner. But it’s hardly a direct parallel. Plantation slaves, for instance, couldn’t write a snarky, contentious book about the conditions of their enslavement. And while there’s a good case for the modern worker being trapped by economic conditions, no one who quits Wal-Mart is hunted down and shot.

Ames is much better on the individual cases, dismantling the “quiet loner” stereotype to look at the often sadistic conditions that formed these unlikely killers. It’s here that Ames’ ideas engender the most sympathy. These pitiful creatures—bullied by sadistic supervisors, told to buck up when their benefits are summarily slashed, left swinging due to corporate downsizing, tortured by classmates, ignored by parents and educators—are rendered even more so by the way they’re painted as “the crazy one” by peers and superiors.

Most telling are the aftereffects, events swept under the rug and victims told to get over it. “One teacher who cared for the children at the blood-spattered shooting scene,” Ames writes, “had her pay docked for those days when she stayed home from teaching because she was too emotionally traumatized to face work. She looked into filing a worker’s compensation claim, and was told to ‘forget it.’” Sometimes reading Going Postal you feel like the whole world has gone insane, pacifying itself with the placebo of a lone nut instead of attacking the illness at the root.

And that’s part of the problem with Going Postal. All you’re left with at the end is a lot of evidence and a dual feeling of righteous indignation and cosmic futility. Ames offers no solutions—not that he’s obligated to—and his “attempt to dig up Reagan’s remains . . . and subject him, at last, to a proper trial” feels like chipping away at a mountain with pencil—and kinda makes you want to go crazy.

Comments powered by Disqus
CP on Facebook
CP on Twitter