The Penn State tragedy is getting to feel more and more like a nightmare from America's poet laureate of surrealism, David Lynch. Like Lynch's finest work, the setting is an apparently tranquil small town with a stable populace that displays an intense civic devotion, when in reality a terrifying darkness of violence and sexual pathos lurks behind the placid façade.
Much like the opening shots of "Blue Velvet," in which scenes of an idyllic neighborhood are replaced with the grotesque images of beetles under those streets, or the secret-filled residents of "Twin Peaks" dealing with the murder of the homecoming queen, the false front of Penn State and State College has crumbled to reveal sinister doings within its bucolic confines.
Indeed, aside from the many child victims, there seem to be few innocents involved in this central Pennsylvania region.
After so many gruesome and vile details of the crimes allegedly committed by Jerry Sandusky have become known to any American paying attention to news the last 10 days, what is coming more into focus is just how many people across several institutions could have stepped in to stop these atrocities.
Intended or unintended, this was the first cover-up, in the style that Catholic Church perfected, in which Penn State decided not to make public the evil occurring on campus. Be it university, police or government inaction, it's more apparent every minute that if action had been taken over the last 15 years, so many lives could have been spared such devastating physical and emotional damage (for a detailed and comprehensive review of the missteps and deceptions, Sara Ganim of the Harrisburg Patriot-News has done a tremendous job outlining the events.
Among the most baffling and anger-inducing elements to this stomach-churning story is this: After Sandusky was forbidden to bring boys on campus, he just set up shop at Central Mountain High School, where he was helping with the football team. At the high school Sandusky was allowed to take children who were participating in his Second Mile program out of study hall to meet in a conference room unmonitored.
It's utterly astounding how Penn State officials did not alert the school that Sandusky was a menace. To their credit, Central Mountain did go to authorities and had Sandusky banned from the district. A brave child and his mother aided the police in initiating the investigation into Sandusky that, three years later, produced the grand jury findings.
Details on the cover-up(s) will emerge, likely in exponential fashion, over the coming weeks and months as this story morphs from a Penn State/Joe Paterno episode into a novelistic account of the breakdown of a cross-section of institutions, including governmental ineptitude.
Now we're also fully immersed in that other cover-up, one that is benign in its presentation yet no less threatening to our character as a nation. I'm speaking of the introduction of that dreaded word, "healing." I knew it would come but didn't think it would be so swift in its arrival. And the media is again complicit in letting Penn State get away with the clichéd luxury that "time heals all wounds."
As Penn State played football Saturday, many fans and commentators spoke of the "healing process" and that now was the time to "move forward." Nothing could be further from the truth.
Now is most decidedly not the time for healing or to even entertain the notion of moving forward. Healing can't begin until justice is served and the whole truth is unleashed. Healing can't begin until Penn State takes action to show that the school is indeed serious in rehabilitating its image, a process that could and should take some time.
One way the school could do that would be not to play football in 2012. That would be a tangible action to prove the school's seriousness in trying to repair what ultimately can't be fixed anyway.
This repugnant addiction America has to the instant palliative has reached epidemic proportions. Reflect for a few minutes, shed a tear, hug your in-the-moment neighbor and move on. Be it walks to raise money for cancer research, candlelight vigils for a missing child or sending out birthday wishes on Facebook, Americans are programmed to experience emotion by proxy and without meaningful consequence, while all the while told to feel good and that such actions are indeed edifying.
Simply put: If all those at Beaver Stadium were sincerely angry at what had transpired, truly remorseful and sickened by the inaction by those in the football program, they wouldn't have even showed up to watch their 11 men scurry around a grass field.
Granted, many fans at the stadium and Penn State students are doubtlessly struggling with the events. But those students and others in the Penn State community who are tortured by these happenings are not showing up for football games or other pathetic displays of faux remorse.
Now I fear the imminent arrival of that other repugnant term that has become all too familiar in our parlance, "closure."
Healing and closure. Why should Penn State have them in the near or distant future? After all, the victims will likely never get either.