Media must shoulder blame for violence

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No troubled teenager or tormented adult who coldly guns down innocent human beings and then self-destructs does so in a vacuum. They learn it from the media.

Another tragic school shooting has just occurred in Germany.

Another event where a male shooter irreparably shattered the hopes and dreams of his innocent victims then either takes his own life, is captured or killed by police.

Violent video games, Goth culture, relentless bullying, dysfunctional families, or access to guns may be contributing factors but are clearly not the main reasons a growing list of angst-ridden adolescents and alienated adults suddenly seem to snap.

Since 1966, there has been a gruesome litany of at least 15 other occasions when ticking human time-bombs have self-destructed, though not before inflicting a horrific tsunami of human grief and anguish in their wake. Each inexplicable act has and continues to take an incalculable toll on the stunned survivors, the families and friends of each victim.

How many of us can actually remember the names of the victims? Without conducting a formal survey, I would be willing to wager that more people recall the names of the deranged killers than they do the tragic victims of these senseless crimes. So what else do all of these shootings have in common?

In almost every gut-twisting case, the names and images of the killers were boldly splashed across countless newspapers, television and computer screens throughout the free world.

It’s time we give our heads a shake and stop making instant celebrities out of the latest school-shooter-of-the-week. Don’t get me wrong. I’m not for a minute suggesting we can or should even attempt to completely squelch information about the perpetrators of these horrendous crimes.

The proliferation of camera phones, video-sharing Internet web- sites and other technologies yet to land on our store shelves makes any attempt at complete censorship impossible. If there is the slightest chance we can learn more about why these sad souls end up exploding, then by all means such information should be shared with law enforcement agencies and medical experts to prevent future calamities.

What I am suggesting is that media organizations employ the same sort of discretion and self-censorship we see when television networks refuse to provide a platform for individuals or groups who openly threaten violence to achieve their ends. To deter would-be exhibitionists, most TV networks decline to broadcast images of inebriated fans who decide to bare it all during professional sporting events. Couldn’t they also refrain from communicating information about school shooters?

What possible benefit can result from feeding the public sordid details of a killer’s banal past, other than giving them exactly what they crave? Such coverage only draws attention away from the victims and their families whose lives are mangled beyond repair.

Rather than suffer in silent despair or seek help, a small but disturbing segment of youth is choosing to violently lash out and die in a hail of bullets, though not before dragging others out the blood-spattered door with them. In death, they achieve the mass notoriety that eludes them in life, as their lethal deeds instantly vault them into the glare of the media spotlight.

As any psychologist or weary teacher will readily acknowledge, many troubled adolescents choose to misbehave to gain some attention, however negative, rather than none at all. Should we really be surprised at such attention-seeking behaviour in our more distressed youth?

On an almost daily basis we witness spoiled celebrities who garner disproportionate media attention simply by being bad. Misdeeds, substance abuse, violent tantrums and rehab are all now one-way tickets to over-the-top media coverage.

It’s time to take back some of the media landscape by encouraging owners of the broadcast industry to exercise more prudence whenever tragic events like the recent Valentine’s Day school shooting occur.

Like it or not, when we scan the latest newspaper, television or online news story for details of such heinous events, we also indirectly contribute to the cycle of violence and frenetic media mayhem that inevitably ensues.

Beaming the names and faces of the killers around the globe following such chilling events will only encourage more unstable individuals to act out in ways that, in the end, will continue to rob us all of our humanity.

Photo Credit: elevats

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One Comment on “Media must shoulder blame for violence”

  1. Dafydd Silcock says:

    Mike,

    I agree that our mass-market culture (entertainment and news) often focuses on superficial “shock value” which often sensationalizes or glorifies violence and minimizes the eternal human cost.

    However, external influences on behavior have always been and forever will be a part of each human’s experience. Our character, our personal code of conduct, is the guide to our behavior, whether we succumb to these false influences.

    Unfortunately, the pathology of mass murderers is all too common — disaffected loners with poor relationships with their family or traumatic childhoods. Are parents to blame? Sometimes these troubled killers have the most earnest of parents, but go astray in any case.

    Should the media “shoulder the blame”? Carry the coat-tails, perhaps, because they do have an influence, but are one of many. I have watched thousands of horror films in my life (as have many friends), yet the most violent thing I have done is to punch Mark van Bers in the stomach in the fifth grade.

    My point is, the individual must “shoulder” the bulk of responsibility. For a 17 year-old, their parents and families and friends must ask why they did not notice signs (there always are in these cases) and act. Every time this happens, the same questions are asked, and remain unanswered…


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