Today I went with my daughter and my parents and our friends to the March for Our Lives event in our small New Hampshire city. There were some boys there, but the high school-aged speakers were all girls, and people mostly brought their daughters (this made me especially appreciate those who brought their sons ). I know that part of the backlash to the school walkout to end gun violence is the idea of the “walk up”—the notion that gun violence by kids toward other kids is somehow revenge for years of bullying, and that reaching out to troubled peers might make them think twice before stockpiling semiautomatic weapons and plotting a bloodbath, but I’m not so sure. I was bullied in school, too, but I never once considered buying a weapon, let alone using one to harm large numbers of people.
I did, however, want desperately to be telekinetic. This desire was reignited by watching the first season of Stranger Things. When all seems lost—someone is going to be killed, or hurt, or captured, or sucked into another dimension by a slime-dripping headless beast, Eleven narrows her eyes and puts a stop to it, even if the effort gives her a nosebleed and probably a nasty headache, too. These scenes are very satisfying. Things at work are not great this semester, and my corner office has floor-to-ceiling windows that let me see a lot of people walking by. I can’t say I haven’t tried to will anyone to trip and fall, or drop a laptop case or trip over a curb. Once I fooled myself into thinking it actually worked.
In Kristy Puchko’s 2015 Vanity Fair article “Why the Movies Love Telekinetic Women, and why we Fear them,” she asks “what if a woman’s frame were no limitation to the wrath and rage she could physically unleash?” and goes on to argue that this is “the fear, and the fantasy, that plays at the heart of these stories.” However, there has to be more to it. A gun has nothing to do with the size of a man’s frame. And it’s a question you could ask about why school shooters do what they do.
Not all, but a lot of the telekinetics you see on TV and in the movies are female. And it’s not as if they have it all together early on; most of them, when they first discover their powers, don’t have a lot of control over them, and it’s embarrassing. Matilda spills the water, Carrie burns out the lights when she’s in the principal’s office. But then the kid who is teasing Carrie falls off his bike. Matilda protects her friends from Miss Trunchbull. The great thing about telekinesis is that you can use it to enact justice, but you can do it without anyone else knowing that you’re the one responsible. No one can prove it’s you, because people can’t move things with their minds, can they? That’s crazy.
The best thing about telekinesis is this: it isn’t real. It’s fun to imagine, to fantasize about, but no one can actually do it. The body count is exactly zero. Guns exist, though they seem as rooted in fantasy and fiction, I imagine, as supernatural powers, at least to the boys who buy them and use them on large groups of other kids for reasons that are hard to comprehend. That’s the thing that keeps me up at night.