As the anguished screams and tears ended, the prayers made, all we are left with are the memories and the videos.
A deeply troubled person chose to inflict pain for his own pleasure and decided that he not only needed to do it in the worst way possible, mass murder, but that he needed to write his own legend while doing it. In this age of 24/7 video recording, where everything is instantly shared and kept forever somewhere on the internet, somehow all of this went missing. That there is now so much evidence to look over has left the mass media with somewhat of an ethical conundrum: Do we show this material because it is important to the story or is showing it feeding the evil it was intended for?
Not long ago, there was a discussion about to not naming the killer when a mass murder happens. That by repeatedly saying the person’s name, they were achieving a sort of immortality that they no doubt craved. Instead, just saying, “The Shooter” for instance was a way to rob them of their infamy. The deranged and evil of the world feeds off of each other. One person sees how it is done and decides they too must try it, but maybe go bigger, go further to get their slice of attention. Almost always, they have nothing to say except that they hurt, they ache to be noticed, to not be marginalized, to be taken seriously. Instead of reaching out, they snap or are already broken and thus can only break everyone around them. This does not absolve them of their sins. They are guilty of everything they carry out with their own hands and those of a spiritual bent hope for some sort of judgment upon them by a more divine source. What though, do we who must endure make of all of this?
These questions come to mind as the videos and the “manifesto” of the Santa Barbara shooter are watched and talked about. Much has been made on the terrible views toward women and they must be discussed at length. One of our greatest struggles as a society is this sense of numb entitlement that so many seem to have. The belief that things are just “owed” to us because they are. Nothing is worked toward anymore, it is instead a right. Of course we should all have power, money, status, the attention of the opposite sex and when we don’t, clearly, something is wrong with the world. This festering self-belief is apparent and beyond horrifying because it is what leads to the justification of evil as a sense of revenge.
Much as the recent tragedy in Connecticut where a student was murdered after she declined to go to the prom with another, it seems especially prevalent in the under 30 age range. This belief that everyone is the star of their own story and everyone else is secondary, the rise of the famous for being famous, that attention equals success is what fuels so much of the ongoing horror. Some blame video games, violent movies, TV, the internet itself, but what all of it adds up to one common answer: we are too numb toward violence. Instead of being horrified, somehow, it actually seems like a plausible solution. Perhaps because it has become so constant?
Playing over the youtube tapes and excerpts from the Manifesto are important to tell the story but is is responsible? With each re-airing of them, are we giving more airtime to this evil? There is of course a need to tell the story, to paint the whole picture, but as was pointed out, there have been cases when sometimes discretion is more important for the common good of the media consumer. For instance, the suicide of R. Budd Dwyer of Pennsylvania who shot and killed himself at a live hearing on TV. The debates raged about how much a viewer should see. Some ran the entire tape unedited with all of the carnage, others went with an edited version. Still others chose to just talk about it. Those who did see the footage were changed by it. As one long-time TV director put it to me, “Even being as De-sensitized as I am , seeing that really shook me.”
It’s that sentiment that I wish to really make here with this post. Not that these tapes should be ignored as clearly they need to be investigated. His rantings are those of a damaged person with motives that we may never fully understand. My fear is that by seeing them played nationwide, even for a journalistic reason, will embolden others to do the same. Some loner will see this as a way for him or her to be heard as well and carry out their own revenge on a seemingly unloving world.
There are no easy solutions here as the job of the media is to report the story and this evidence clearly IS that. Perhaps just referencing them instead of playing them? Though that could lead to the curious finding them anyway as sometimes it’s the vagueness of an issue that piques someone’s interest. Some have said, instead of showing the shooter alive and on his videos, show his body, dead and decaying as the ultimate price of this evil. That though seems just as extreme and actually, sparked an outcry of its own. A police officer decided to show actual footage and photos of the Boston Bombers, bloodied and in hiding as a response to the media coverage and was fired from his post.
Being frank, there is no real right way to cover these events. What should matter though is a remembrance of those who were lost. Instead of focusing so much time on the why and what and the way in which it happened, time should be given more to the who, those who were innocent and forever taken away. The pain and anguish of the families and the strength of those who must go on living after such unimaginable loss. Likewise, this should once again re-open discussions that this country has a hard time with, namely gun control and mental health. It was believed that the horrors of Newtown, Connecticut would lead to some shift in policies but instead it eventually just became answer tragic news story, like every other.
There is an uncomfortable truth amidst all of this, that the coverage we get is the coverage we want, that violence sells and that is probably true. It’s a chicken and the egg question now, as the media has to worry about its ratings in order to sustain itself. No one exists solely for the pro bono work of informing the public if they want to feed their own families. We often tune in to watch and hear more about the tragedies than the common day goodness of life and that is a shame. Yet, the beat does go on and that is what makes us fundamentally human.
Each day brings the promise of great joy and hope along with unspeakable horror, yet we all continue onward and the media tries its best to hold a mirror to it. Sometimes we watch and laugh or feel good, far too often we are left in tears as the videos play on before our very eyes.
Media from CNN and CBSnews.com