By JOHN BUTERBAUGH
We have observed countless gun-related massacres on the television, and lately it feels as if they just won’t stop. We continue to ask ourselves “Why?” and then say, “Well, I guess there’s nothing we can do.” We feel defeated. We blame gun laws for being too lax; we blame gun laws for being too strict. This has widened ideological divides in the American culture wars.
However, we aren’t paying enough attention to the other thing that is happening on the screen: sensationalized new media. Borne from the yellow journalism of the 19th century, the new media feeds on blood, guts, sex, and controversy. People can’t look away from a train wreck. Bad news is good news in the eyes of the media.
As such, the more the media glorifies the perpetrators of mass shootings, the more copycats that will aspire to that glory, the more mass shootings that will occur, the more sensational news the media can report, the more people will watch those news and feed the ratings of those media outlets.
And the vicious (24-7 news) cycle continues.
The media has a moral responsibility not to manufacture news in such a way as to harm the lives of many of its viewers and other innocent human beings. The news has a duty to inform us how to be better citizens, not to reduce us to being mindless consumers only interested in a shocking headline or soundbite.
We are in a way a reflection of the world around us. A part of that world is the media. We are bombarded by words and pictures that tell us who we should be or how we should act. Is this how we choose to live? The media should be pointing us to what truly matters so that we don’t reflect the ugly world outside but reflect within ourselves. We must decide for ourselves who we want to be and in which sort of world that would be.
The media has shown disconnected and alienated Americans something to aspire to: fame. The Colorado shooter (who shall remain unnamed here) is a household name. This is not a positive consequence. While Americans have a right to know that a shooting occurred and that reporting the name of the perpetrator helps law enforcement catch the suspect, copycats see that they too can be a household name if they carry out a mass shooting of their own. Individuals who have failed to gain any recognition from their peers will seek desperate measures to get that attention. It’s sad.
These shooters are not simply exploiting gun laws. They know full well that controversy and sensation drives the 24-7 news cycle, and all they have to do is feed the machine. If we really want to prevent copycats, the media should either blur out the face of the perpetrator and/or provide an alias. The media must do this voluntarily because government intervention on this matter would be a violation of free speech. A dialogue between gun safety advocates and mass media leaders must ensue, and a shift in the media paradigm must occur.
However, we must also recognize that even the media is not the only force driving mass shootings. Evil wins when we fight each other — Democrats point fingers at Republicans for inaction on gun legislation, and Republicans admonish Democrats for politicizing the issue. Discussing gun laws and mental health care is perfectly acceptable, considering that they both existed prior to the rise of 24-7 news. However, such discussions miss the external factors that influence people to conduct mass shootings.
We need to recognize the real problem — disconnection that breeds desire for power, money, or fame. Confronting disconnection will be a recurring test in 2016 and perhaps the rest of the 21st century. We need to identify children who are disconnected or alienated and include them in positive, non-violent ways. Disconnection and alienation don’t just cause mass shootings. They have led thousands of Muslims to join ISIS. When the Western world continues to say to Muslims, “We hate you,” it is not falling on deaf ears. We must understand the consequences of our own actions as they have a huge impact on the health of our society. We must stand together, and tell the media to do its job.