No topic is more controversial than gun control, unless that would be immigration. In the new audiobook production of Postmarked for Death, narrated by Atlanta actor Len Cassamas (with author Jonathan Lowe), a postal clerk with a grudge against illegal immigrants begins bombing government offices and mailing letter bombs, just like the Unabomber…except he continues working at the USPS while police and inspectors battle over their search for the wrong man. With all the news about shootings, gaming violence and POTUS, Postmarked for Death, set near the border in Tucson, is an apt and timely psychological thriller. “A class performance, powerful and accomplished…mystery at its best.” — Clive Cussler
PostalMag: You contacted the author of Assassination Generation, Lt. Col. Dave Grossman. What did he say?
Lowe: I asked him via email for evidence to the link, and he responded with this: “In 2015, the American Psychological Association’s resolution on violent video game effects stated that “scientific research has demonstrated an association between violent video game use and both increases in aggressive behavior, aggressive affect, and aggressive cognitions and decreases in prosocial behavior, empathy, and moral engagement. In 2017, the APA Task Force on the Assessment of Violent Video Games reaffirmed their statement and emphasized that violent video games are resulting in serious antisocial outcomes. They concluded ‘…users of violent video games reported feeling hostile or angry, had increases in heart rate and blood pressure, thought about being aggressive, had pro-violence attitudes, and acted aggressively in ways that they themselves reported (including hitting, pushing, and fighting) and that others reported about them (i.e., teacher and peer ratings.’ Essentially, those that use violent video games, especially over time, are exposed to a mean and antisocial world that can influence who they are and what they do. These deleterious findings are well documented, consistent, and pervasive, supported across numerous kinds of studies and summaries of studies, and warrant concern by the public as well as by policymakers.” Grossman gave me three links to those studies, which I checked out. In Assassination Generation, he gives examples of school shooters who cite the violent games that inspired them.
PostalMag: Who is Grossman?
Lowe: He’s an FBI and Army Ranger trainer and psychologist. He is pro gun ownership, and advocates training, even for teachers. His book “On Killing” is on the Marines commanders recommended reading list, and was translated into many languages. He has seen active duty in several wars, and is the most respected authority on why people turn violent. He trains people on how to get past the internal “safety switch,” as he calls it, in order to kill.
PostalMag: How is your book relevant?
Lowe: “Postal” is a video game produced in Tucson, where I once worked as a clerk while listening to audiobooks. (CFS, or Computerized Forwarding System.) The game is detailed in the very opening of Grossman’s book. In it, you can kill entire marching bands of kids, and use flame throwers on women you don’t like. I met the producer of Postal in person. Never played the game, but watched it. At the time I was playing games like Myst, which is not a first person shooter but an adventure game with a mystery story and puzzles to solve. As a footnote, one of the music composers for Myst is now a friend, since he recorded my novel “The Miraculous Plot of Leiter and Lott” as his first audiobook in 2011. Paul Heitsch is now up for an Audie award after recording 100 titles. Business is “booming.” About Postmarked for Death, it also begins with a shooting, although it moves to bombs when the killer, Calvin Beach, realizes that shooters are mostly committing suicide. He sets up a co-worker to be his patsy, kidnaps him, then ties him up in an abandoned Titan missile base near the border while he continues to work and mail letter bombs. The police are hunting David Sominsky, but one inspector is suspicious. Both point of views are given—bomber and inspector—so it’s a Why-Dun-It, not a Who-Dun-It. And it’s Len Cassamas’ first audiobook, too. He’s an actor and writer in Atlanta.
PostalMag: Are there other audiobooks linking gaming to real violence?
Lowe: Bear in mind that we are talking about already disturbed young players who are bullied at school or dissed, play 18+ games like Grand Theft Auto, and who then use their parents guns to seek revenge. Yes, that’s documented not just in Grossman’s book, but in “The Spiral Notebook” by Stephen Singular, which details incidents at Sandy Hook, Columbine, Virginia Tech, and the Washington Navy Yard. Grossman was interviewed by Men’s Journal, and some of this is in that interview, too. In the great book and movie Ready Player One there are lots of guns blazing, but the action moves from mindless first person shooters to games about solving puzzles like Adventure. The message is that VR is not reality, and reality may be broken, but it can be fixed. Tough task, but if people support great games with a positive message instead of Crackdown 3 and the like, gun mania will self correct.
PostalMag: What about you?
Lowe: I’m not an NRA member, but I do own a gun. I’m for 21+ weapon ownership laws, simply because young men trying to establish their identity with peers are the most violent demographic, especially if poor and abused. Young men are under high stress in our MeToo culture. This was mentioned in the March for Our Lives, while GamerGate was mentioned by the father of VR, Jaron Lanier, in his new book. Don’t shoot the messenger, but here’s a quote from him, and remember that he’s the most sought after speaker in Silicon Valley: “Gaming is the home of the Alt Right, who largely hate women.” That’s a quote missed by Wired magazine, when they interviewed him. Wired is pro-gaming big time, it’s their “target’ audience. I asked an editor there about this, and he responded that “there’s no real evidence linking gaming to shootings.” Scientists might call that “confirmation bias.” We seek evidence that supports our beliefs, and ignore what doesn’t.
PostalMag: So are young male shooters not monsters, but rather “us” in different circumstances?
Lowe: Yes, although you can’t prevent kids getting guns, why object to bump stock or stricter registration laws for assault rifles, which you could charge people with, if they do “go postal?” One can buy machine pistols at Cabelas. Easily hidden, altered. Those are not for hunting, obviously. By the way, the phrase “going postal” is unfortunate. It began with a newspaper article in the Los Angeles Times, but also in the movie “Clueless.” I know a former co-worker who was at the Royal Oak postal shooting, but of course the worst one was in Edmond, Oklahoma, which left fourteen dead. The word “disgruntled” applied there.
PostalMag: Statistically, the USPS isn’t any more apt to violence than other workplaces, though, wouldn’t you agree?
Lowe: That’s true. It’s just the sheer number of employees, and the fact that the press looks for patterns. “Pattern Recognition.” That’s a great scifi book, by the way. Along with Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury, in which firemen start fires instead of putting them out. Bradbury answered every letter I sent him as a teen, and predicted that television soundbites (or “factoids”) would turn the world more violent, as books were burned and people read less. “They are not coming for our guns, they are coming for our books.” Facebook does this with our consent, by turning us into robots addicted to sports and social media. Ray predicted wide screen interactive TVs too, by the way. Watch the original film, which was inspired by a story called “The Pedestrian,” in which a pilotless drone helicopter arrests two guys out walking at night instead of watching their “viewing screens.”
PostalMag: Jonathan says you’re an author, too. What have you done, and what do you like to read, Mr. Cassamas?
Len Cassamas: Over the years, I’ve written three full-length plays, one one act, and several audio plays and numerous sketches. I’ve also published a collection of Christmas-themed short stories called Looking for Christmas and my take on the hardboiled detective novel, a book called Michael Drayton, Detective Guy. Last year, I made a novella I wrote called “That’s the Way of the World” available on my website, LenCassamas.com, for free. I tend to read history and biography, and, when it comes to fiction, tend toward reading classics and literary fiction.
PostalMag: You have acting experience, but never recorded an audiobook before. What made you agree to read this book?
Cassamas: I was curious whether it would be something that I might enjoy doing. Many well respected actors have lucrative sidelines in narrating audiobooks. When I was looking for projects to audition for, the title Postmarked for Death just leapt out at me. I had to give it a flyer.
PostalMag: Thoughts on gun control and violent video games?
Cassamas: I don’t think we’re going to be able to deal with gun violence in the United States until we come to some understanding what guns mean to us, as a culture, philosophically and mythologically. Given the mythos of the Old West—a theme that Postmarked for Death touches on—guns have a cultural meaning that makes them signifiers of power and, frankly, justice. Regardless of one’s position concerning gun control laws, I don’t think we can come to any kind of meaningful resolution until that cultural symbolism is recognized and understood. As for video games, I’ve never been partial to them and am, therefore, not the best authority on them. However, even though most studies show no link between violent video games and mass shootings and while there are violent video games all around the world and a disproportionate number of mass shootings in the US, I also think that humans use play in a number of ways, and, as seems to be the thesis of Assassination Generation, one of these is pedagogical. In play, we can practice and rehearse. And I think that someone who had it in mind to go someplace to kill a bunch of people would have a handy way of practicing by use of a first person shooter game. I know that the first time I saw someone playing one, back in 1993, I was horrified by the very idea of it. I haven’t really cozied up to them over the intervening years.
PostalMag Note: Their new audiobook production is now available from Audible.com and iTunes. If you are not a member of Audible and buy Postmarked for Death as your first choice from PostalMag, you’ll get it and another of your choice for free.