Published October 9, 2003, in issue #0240 of The Hook
BY ELIZABETH STANEK ELIZABETH@READTHEHOOK.COM
It's 11am in Fashion Square Mall, and as shoppers flock through Victoria's Secret, a sudden spray of bullets takes down three women, their limp fingers making one final caress of the lace-trimmed nighties as they slide toward the floor.
But the rampage doesn't end in intimate apparel. Teenyboppers sporting dangly hoop earrings tumble to the ground, felled by a barrage of bullets unloaded by an Islamic terrorist named Zuhayr. As the bloodbath continues, several UVA students bolt shrieking from Sam Goody, cursing their sudden urge to snag new tunes to ignite their next fraternity bash.
Sound ludicrous? Well, just jet over to your nearest bookstore and flip to chapter 13 of Tom Clancy's latest novel. Released August 11 and still firmly ensconced on bestseller lists, The Teeth of the Tiger puts our own Fashion Square Mall all over the map. Not to mention blood all over the corridors.
The story-- fictional, thankfully-- has raised a few eyebrows locally. Why Charlottesville? Why Fashion Square?
"I wish I could say I was flattered, but we're not pleased," says Misty Parsons, Fashion Square's director of marketing. "It's such a crazy plot."
The plot follows the Hendley Associates, a terrorist-fighting team of Wall Streeters who put down their manila folders to turn to their true passion: fighting terrorism. And although the "The Campus" is composed of men with experience in the CIA and other government agencies, the members distinguish themselves as a group willing to bypass the rules of society in their quest for vengeance.
While The Teeth of the Tiger proves a thrilling read for some locals, it has aroused ethical concern in others. William Anderson, Chair of the Charlottesville Peace and Justice Center, puts it in the context of the ideals of our predecessors.
"Ancient Greeks did not portray violence on stage," he says. "There were certain principles that guided them."
But alas, G.P. Putnam's Sons publishing is not the Theater of Dionysus. Putnam/Clancy spokesperson Michael Barson offers no comment on why actual Charlottesville sites were chosen as locations in the violent novel.
While they may seem to be simply a cornucopia of consumer goods, Belk, Kay Jewelers, and even Auntie Anne's pretzels have been hijacked as the setting for Clancy's Islamic terrorists to wreak their mayhem. Even the former Dunkin' Donuts on Route 29 makes the page when a cup of coffee provides the malevolent Zuhayr with a caffeine high and sparks his rampage in the lingerie store. (Despite their store's prominent status in Clancy's bloodbath, the local Victoria's Secret employees declined to comment.)
Yet fictional violence has a way of sparking discussion. Just ask bestselling author and Charlottesville resident John Grisham, who in 1996 spoke out against Oliver Stone, director of Natural Born Killers, a graphic 1994 film that allegedly touched off a spate of copycat crimes.
The most well known incident began March 6, 1995, when teenagers Sarah Edmondson and Ben Darras watched Natural Born Killers multiple times. A day later, in Hernando, Mississippi, Darras murdered William Savage, and Edmondson shot and paralyzed a convenience store cashier in Ponchatoula, Louisiana.
In 1996, Grisham, a friend of Savage's, supported the paralyzed cashier, Patsy Byers, in her lawsuit against Stone and Time Warner Entertainment, claiming that the movie had inspired the young couple's rampage. Writing in his now-dormant Oxford American magazine, Grisham claimed that Stone had glamorized "casual mayhem and bloodlust." According to Grisham, "The last hope of imposing some sense of responsibility on Hollywood will come through another great American tradition, the lawsuit."
Grisham compared Stone's work with the famously flawed Ford Pinto, an early 1970s vehicle that frequently exploded on impact.
Through an assistant, Grisham declined to comment for this story.
Bethel College philosophy professor Andrew Gustafson isn't concerned about the influence on local audiences of violence in a popular novel. He's more worried about the psychological effects of media coverage of actual violence and the way he believes it has inoculated young people against the shock of mass murder in movies and fiction.
"So much of our pursuits have become animal-like," he warns. "The media must take some responsibility."
The Peace Center's Anderson agrees. "Every creator, every person who serves the public, should render that service with the public welfare in mind. Regardless of whether an act is legal or illegal, if it results in bad consequences, the same ethical standards should apply-- the standard of public good."
Clancy is no novice when it comes to setting mayhem in actual places. His 1991 bestseller, The Sum of All Fears, features Arab terrorists detonating a nuclear bomb at the Denver Superbowl.
Despite the fragile state of the nation post-9/11, the producers of the movie-- starring Ben Affleck and Morgan Freeman-- brought the story to theaters in 2002 with minor plot changes: They moved the attack site to a football stadium in Baltimore. The public didn't seem to mind. Ticket sales exploded, and the domestic gross soared to $118.5 million.
Although The Teeth of the Tiger will join Clancy's other widely read novels such as The Hunt for Red October and Clear and Present Danger on bookshelves in many American homes, some people object to the entire premise.
"I'm weary of this genre of literature because of the degree to which Clancy is able to paint a lively picture that terrorism could happen here," says Helena Cobban, a fellow at UVA's Institute for Practical Ethics. "It tends to stir up people's fearfulness even more when it's a place you know."
Albemarle County's sheriff, law and order diehard Ed Robb, cites the Constitution's freedom of speech in response to Clancy's novel. (On the topic of terrorism, he warns, "We must stay alert.")
"It is not a threat to the town," says Albemarle County Police Chief John Miller. "Fiction is fiction."
Clancy might actually have romped around Charlottesville's shopping quarters to research his latest novel-- he's spoken at the University of Virginia.
Clearly, innocuous settings like vineyards, the Skyline Drive, or Chris Greene Lake in midwinter just don't cut it. It was on Route 29-- under consumerism's bright lights-- where Clancy seems to have had a vision that transformed the reality of the terrorist threats into gory hometown fiction. Why Charlottesville? Why Fashion Square?
Clancy isn't talking.
Tom Clancy: The man who shot up Charlottesville
PHOTO BY JOHN EARLE
The Teeth of the Tiger, shown here for sale at the Hydraulic Road Kroger.
PHOTO BY JOHN EARLE