THE LATEST THINKING
The opinions of THE LATEST’s guest contributors are their own.
Is the Media Perpetuating the Mass Shooter Crisis?
No one doubts that journalists have a duty to cover important news events. However, when the media focuses on the most sensationalistic and troubling aspects of a story, it runs the risk of perpetuating many of the problems society is seeking to solve. One example is the current mass shootings crisis. Troubled minds watching 24/7 coverage of these tragedies may conclude that a quick chance at fame, even as a murderer, is better than a life lived in lonely obscurity.
One of the most popular character types in TV and literature is that of the naughty child. Mischievous little tykes like Bart Simpson, Tom Sawyer, and Dennis the Menace have long amused the public with their antics.
In real life, however, behavior problems are less funny. Child rearing experts, as well as irate parents, have long pondered why some kids engage in destructive, even cruel, misdeeds. While explanations vary, one common answer is that the child's actions are a heartfelt attempt at notoriety. It seems that receiving attention, even if it's negative, is preferable to being ignored or neglected.
This insight into human behavior offers a powerful clue as to why mass shootings have risen to epidemic proportions. To see how, consider that modern society is more fragmented than at any time in the past. The Internet is rich in information but poor in intimacy.
In our world, friendship is conducted in a sterile, virtual environment. Entertainment is both customized and depersonalized. The human need for flesh and blood interaction is in ever-decreasing supply, as we're expected to draw emotional sustenance from a smart phone.
The result is a growing class of people who live their lives in painful anonymity, aware of their loneliness but unsure of how to overcome it. When people grow into adulthood having never resolved their emotional or interpersonal issues, they may seek a quick and dirty route to fame - even if that option entails committing atrocities.
Let's tie this back into how most media outlets report events. News coverage in the early 21st century is a viciously competitive business, with more information options than ever before. This being the case, how does one source stand apart from the rest?
One way is to shock, titillate, and terrify the public into staying tuned in for the latest update. This necessitates not only focusing on the negative but trumpeting it 24/7. Cops who abuse their authority receive coverage ad infinitum. Those who discharge their duties without prejudice labor in obscurity.
Teachers who abuse their students become household names. Those who practice their professions with nobility never get a mention. People who respect others receive anonymity for their efforts. Those who raise a fist in bloody anger find their images plastered across screens both big and small.
The lesson, as perceived by some on the margins, is to pick up a gun and start killing people. The consequences are overlooked in the rush to fame.
Like many issues, this problem is easier to identify than to address. Part of the solution, however, is to amend the way journalism is done. Our society is replete with heroes who do things worthy of note.
Taking more time to recognize these people would help to address not only the mass shootings crisis but many of the other issues that vex our society. Dare we ask any less of those who report the news? After all, anyone can curse the darkness. it takes a leader to light that first candle.