Girls scream at concerts. Girls screamed for Frank Sinatra, for Elvis Presley, for the Beatles, for the Supremes, for Madonna, for Michael Jackson, for Prince, for Taylor Swift. Monday night, girls and their moms in Manchester, England, were screaming for Ariana Grande, a pop singer I’d never heard of until I saw the news alerts flashing on my computer.
Girls are not supposed to scream at concerts because a bomb has gone off at the back of the hall. Music fans, girls and boys, women and men, are not supposed to be screaming because the most lighthearted outing has been shattered by the kind of violence expected on the front lines of a battlefield.
These kinds of screams are different. These weren’t kids screaming in the dark; these were kids screaming after the lights went on, because that’s when the suicide bomber decided it was the right time to destroy the lives of thousands of people.
It was supposed to be fun. Don’t tell me that the fact that the concert was called the “Dangerous Woman” tour had nothing to do with it. Don’t tell me that Ariana Grande’s wildly popular pop song, which happened to be written by three men and included the lines “Don’t need permission/ made my decision to test my limits” and “I live for danger” had nothing to do with the terrorist decision to attack this particular concert. Don’t tell me that aiming for women and children first, women and children who were celebrating a frivolous, flirty and boisterous take on independence – and yes, a kind of emerging sexuality – was coincidental. The threat of girls just wanting to have fun was simply too perilous to be borne by a group (the Islamic State group has claimed unverified credit) that relies on a systemic oppression of women.
There were pink balloons everywhere. The balloons weren’t red, white and blue; they didn’t represent or conjure up any kind of national or political iconography. Of what use is a balloon against shrapnel?
What did your parents warn you about when you went to your first concert? My father worried that some predatory boy would lead me astray. My mother worried that my friends and I, who were sneaking food into the event because we didn’t have enough money to buy from the concession stands, wouldn’t have enough to eat. My friends and I worried that no predatory boys would attempt to lead us astray. Because I grew up before cellphones, we all shared the legitimate worry that if we were separated, we’d have no way of finding one another again and would have to start life in a new home.
How astonishingly innocent these worries seem. In part, the deep grief I feel about the Manchester tragedy is because I imagine that most of the kids who were getting ready to go see Ariana Grande that night were worried about such innocent, everyday matters: They were worried about how they looked, and what they were wearing, and who they’d be sitting next to. They were preparing for a rom-com evening, when instead they’d be facing a war story.
Many of the victims of the bombing in Manchester were brought to the children’s units of local hospitals, blood all over the clothes they had chosen to make them look pretty and to let them dance around while one of their favorite stars was singing. They weren’t dressed for battle. They weren’t wearing Kevlar vests; they didn’t have helmets, or boots. In bright T-shirts, artfully tattered jeans and glittery plastic flip-flops, they ended up running for, not toward, their lives. I don’t know whether parents, terrified of what happened in Manchester, will keep their children at home this summer, suggesting that live concerts are no longer a good idea. Assassins can be anywhere: at a live performance, at a sporting event, at a museum, at a mall. But sane, compassionate and peace-loving people are in even more places.
The minute the bomber struck and the residents of the great city of Manchester heard about it, they opened their doors to strangers and offered help to anyone who needed it. United, their voices rise in a chorus that drowns out the chaos. Perhaps hope is a weapon. Perhaps hope is a pink balloon.
Gina Barreca is an English professor at the University of Connecticut and columnist for the Hartford Courant.
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