It happened again. Another psycho went on a random killing spree. As usual, the public is concerned with why and how this could have happened. The expiration of the assault weapons ban, the popularity of ultra-violent video games and television violence are once again the focus of concern. Mike Huckabee asserted that all of these episodes are happening because our public schools aren’t teaching kids about God. What makes more sense is psychological evaluation of the particular killers rather than a simplistic panacea which would happen to benefit a pundit’s own industry.
I have my own cynical opinions about these events. My fundamental beef concerns the wall-to-wall coverage these tragedies receive from the news media as well as the manner in which these calamities are covered. The excessive coverage reinforces callousness – not only in the hearts of the viewers – but in the dark souls of the creeps who commit these acts. My own cynicism surfaces immediately after one of these episodes occurs. My first concern is what theme the news media will use in presenting the coverage of a particular tragedy and all of its tangential subplots. The Teevee News Tragedy Exploitation Guidelines suggest that the first step involves the selection of a title that will be used for introducing the story every time it is discussed. Alliteration is always a necessity for these titles. After the Denver killings, I anticipated that a popular title would be “Midnight Movie Massacre”. However, my choice was a bit over-the-top as it brought to mind images of the Crypt Keeper and Vincent Price. As it turned out, “Movie Massacre” was a widely-used theme. A friend of mine had suggested “Horror in Aurora”, although her choice lacked the necessary alliteration and it sounded like the name of an Ali fight. For the most recent event, I am anticipating the use of “Slaughter at Sandy Hook” and “Kindergarten Killings”.
The second step in the Teevee News Tragedy Exploitation Guidelines involves both the selection of a visual image – or logo – for the tragedy as well as a somber theme melody. The previously-discussed tile will appear as part of the logo. The logo and the music will run whenever the story is introduced.
The third step in the Teevee News Tragedy Exploitation Guidelines requires interviews with people who can explain how the killer was always “a quiet guy who kept to himself”.
The fourth step involves providing coverage of the people who gather at makeshift shrines and participate in ad hoc memorial services in response to the killings. They’re a dependable lot. Although these individuals are always portrayed as kind, empathic souls, I would bet that many of them are the same characters who participate in Black Friday brawls at K-Mart, due to a pathological need to participate in media events – which is what brings many of them to these memorials.
An unpleasant byproduct of the saturation coverage teevee news gives to these events is a more hardened, callous public reaction to future tragedies of a similar nature. During the weeks after the Challenger space shuttle disaster in 1986, a series of “shuttle jokes” began to make the rounds of office water coolers, bars, parties and other social gatherings across the country. I remember reading an article in Time magazine during that period, wherein a psychologist explained that telling such jokes is a natural defense mechanism used by people to put distance between themselves and a tragedy, which is not really a part of their own lives. Their experience of the tragedy came from extensive television coverage of the event. Beyond the callousness which results as such a defense mechanism, can exposure to constant saturation coverage of similar shooting tragedies motivate an individual – who might already be pre-disposed to such behavior – to commit such an act himself because he became “hardened” in the same way Saddam Hussein “hardened” his sons by making them watch acts of torture?
I suspect that a key “conditioning” effect resulting from the manner in which the news business is conducted these days, comes from the constant drumbeat of apocalypse. Before we have fully recovered from the 2008 financial meltdown, we are now informed that the country is headed off a fiscal cliff. Not to worry, though – the Mayans have already told us that the world will be coming to an end on Friday. Is it really any wonder that we have been seeing an upsurge of random, mass shooting incidents?
We might find – when we are all still alive on Saturday and if the “fiscal cliff” turns out to be a fiscal bunny hill – that the number of shooting sprees subsides later this year. Let’s hope so.