School/Mass Shootings in the Media

This is an email thread between Lizzy and I about school and mass shootings and the mdeia. I was so impressed by her response I asked her if it was ok I put our discussion up on my site, she said it was fine. 

Initial question from me:

I just saw on the national news that there was another school shooting in Colorado. This is the third major gun incident that state has had. First there was Columbine, then the Aurora movie theater shooting, and now another school shooting. Thankfully, this recent one, there was only one victim who is in a coma, and the shoot shot and killed himself.  Still it's horrible, any loss of life is bad of course.

So, my questionis this: Does reporting school or mass shootings put it into kids heads that this is an option?

Of course, there is the question about freedom of speech. But a media blackout on serious news stories isn't unheard of. I recently heard an MPR story about how when a journalist is kidnapped, they don't report it in the media. We don't hear it in our country, they don't plead to the hostage takers because it just makes it worse, it just encourages them to take more journalists and demand more money.

And there has been cases of "copycat" crimes. Where completely different individual will commit a crime, sometimes a murder, in the exact same way as another murderer has done. Some would argue that they would have killed them anyway, they just did it in a different way. (but that has to do with destiny and free will, and changing the future, and bla bla bla).

Let me break it down a bit. Think of the individual who is having a really rough time at home, in school, getting bullied, or whatever.  These kids have very little recourse. They might go to counseling, or maybe play some video games, or get prayer, and the list goes on.

But when a news story comes on saying "this troubled kid gave up and brought a gun to school and killed the people who were mean to him", now that idea is placed in this kids brain as another option. Not a good one, mind you, but to a disturbed, troubled kid, the legitimacy of an idea is hard to discern 

I'm just wondering if perhaps we should hold back on reporting school shooting for a while and see if that could possibly bring down the occurrence of these horrible incidents. 

I have mixed feelings on this, as it is important to know how many times these things happen and to know how to react and hopefully prevent it from happening again. I'm just wondering if reporting that truth is encouraging to happen again.


Lizzy’s response:

This is a really tricky issue, and I have mixed feelings about it. On the one hand, I feel very strongly that at least some mention should be made, because to ignore it or hide it completely is disrespectful to the victims of those shootings. To do that is essentially to sweep them under the rug and pretend they just somehow disappeared. The victims, especially the ones who are killed and can't speak for themselves, deserve that recognition and tribute. This is somewhat unrelated, but a similar debate revolves around the reporting of suicides (i.e. concern that by reporting suicides, other suicidal people will be inspired to follow suit). When I was in high school, a girl a couple years older than me shot herself in the head. It was very unexpected, as she was quite popular and extremely pretty. Her friends wanted to include a memorial in the yearbook, just a picture of her with her year of birth and year of death (which was common practice for students who had died), but the school refused to allow it, citing concerns that any acknowledgment of her death, even the mere fact that she was dead, could lead to copycat suicides. Similarly, the local newspaper refused to mention it in any way. Even though I barely knew her, that still pisses me off. That because you succumbed to your mental illness, you are not worthy of the usual recognition that accompanies death. That your life did not matter and in fact was a shameful secret that should be covered up and kept quiet.

However, back to the topic at hand (sorry for the long digression), in our 24/7 news industry, the coverage of these incidents is WAY overdone. They focus on the shooter obsessively, for days on end, inadvertently turning him into an antihero celebrity for other disaffected teens to emulate. I absolutely agree that the way these stories are covered leads to copycat crimes. Some bullied loner sees someone he identifies with splashed all over the news for days, weeks even, turned into a household name that will live on in history, and sees that as his one way to be noticed. It's really dangerous.

I think what leads to that is the media's focus on the perpetrator, rather than the victims. They do a brief mention of the victims and spend the other 90% of the time obsessing over the perpetrator - who he was, what led him to this, where he got the weapons, etc etc. As fucked up as it is, the audience prefers it this way. They want a clear, identifiable target for their rage, some evil villain that they can all rally together and hate on. Psychologically it's easier to do that - hating the villain - than feeling sorrow for the lives that were lost. To focus on the victims is unpleasant, and people don't want to watch news that makes them feel hopeless. They want to watch news that focuses on the perpetrator, so that their sense of justice can be assuaged. With the perpetrators (often who are still alive), there is still the chance for good to triumph - he will go to trial, be sentenced, and rot in jail forever. There is no chance for a happy outcome for the dead victims. There's no hope there. And people want to feel hopeful and believe that the world is not a shitty place.

So the media spends an undue amount of time focusing on the shooter. What I would rather see is for the media to report shootings, but NOT name the shooter, or just mention the name briefly and spend the rest of the time focusing on the victims. None of this inadvertent glamorization and celebrification of the perpetrator. If anything, do that with the victims. Don't even talk about the shooter. Acknowledge that there was a shooting, and these were the people who were hurt, and say whether the perpetrator has been apprehended or killed. Leave the perpetrator anonymous. I know this would never go over with the American public in general, who would demand to know the shooter's name and every last thing about him, but that's what I would like to see.


My response:

Wow, I like your thoughts here. You have a very good point about suicides. We do need to honor them, I agree.

And you're absolutely right, when it comes to school shootings, it would be better to focus on the victims instead of the shooter.  And you're right, it's not necessarily the fault of the media, it's what the viewers want 

It's the same fascination with shows like Dexter, where the main character is a serial killer. People want to know why he does it, they’re fascinated by the mechanisms behind his origin story. This is true for our hero's as well, in large part. These recent Batman movies were more based on how Bruce Wayne became Batman, but previous movies of him and in the comics, it's really more about the origin of the villain. Two Face's origin was covered well in Dark Knight, and we sympathize with him even though he killed several people.

On a personal note, I have been looking for Netflix series to watch. I enjoy crime series and detective stories. And so I've tried watching a few. But when I find one that shows the horrible crimes committed from the criminals view, especially when it comes to violence towards women, I get a sick feeling in my stomach and soul. I don't want to know how these men think, or how they kill and torture girls. I don't care. I want to see how the good guy gets them, how the detective solves the crime and brings them to justice, bringing justice to their victims. 

Admittedly, there are a few movies that I have enjoyed when the protagonist has been the "bad guy". Specifically Mr. Brooks (with Kevin Costner), Usual Suspects, Memento to some extent, and a few others. The last two are twist movies, so it's not really seeing crimes from their perspective. But the first one was, and in my defense, my favorite scenes were not the one's where he murders people, but one's where he is arguing with his imaginary dual personality which was quite well done and well acted. But I haven't seen it since, and honestly, although I enjoyed the film, it runs against my nature.

I just can't get behind a protagonist being the "bad guy". I don't want to empathize with a villain, with a murderer. I get that it makes for an interesting story, a new look at the villain, and asking the question 'what is a villain" is interesting. Aren't we all capable of horrible things, and what brings us to the breaking point where we might do that, and perhaps caution us to not get to that point. Fine, I get all that. But...ya know, I know I'm human, I know I'm sinful, I know anyone is capable of horrible things...I know all that. That's why I press into Jesus and focus on his Love and correction so that I don't hurt my fellow man (or woman) and try to make the world a better place.

There is a balance there, in my mind, when it comes to media and the shows we watch.

I honestly wonder what the correlation might be between these new shows that have the protagonist as the anti-hero, the "bad guy", the murderer or serial killer and the violence that we see in our culture. I know that violence and crime, in general, has been dropping since 1992. But school and mass shootings are up.

I'm not saying that media creates violent people. But unstable people, with violent tendencies, might be taught that violence is an acceptable way to react to their world and problems by these shows that have the main character as the villain.


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