I remember exactly where I was. It was April 1999 and I was at my first National Sales Meeting for Genentech. I was two months into my new job and this was my first big meeting. I was in awe of how grand it was. I felt quite small not knowing mostly anyone and listening to all of these “grown-ups” talking about new medicines and laughing at jokes I didn’t get. But, what I really remember is passing a TV in the hotel bar and watching Columbine unfold. Kids running through a high school shooting other kids and teachers. Why would they do that? (Read this excellent book if you want more.) I remember few things about Columbine, but I remember Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold – the killers.
Since then, there have been too many mass killings to count, including Virginia Tech, Aurora and now the horrific massacre at a Connecticut elementary school killing 26 people, including 20 children. I’m incredibly sad and angry – these killings are the very definition of senseless. On some level, my brain can comprehend a lover’s quarrel ending in tragedy or a fight over drugs or money, but I can’t understand killing innocent people – it’s terrorism, plain and simple. I read my friends posts on Facebook and terror is what they feel. It’s what I feel. Terrorism is patently unfair. It’s the ultimate “wrong place, wrong time” and it hits us all in the gut because there’s nothing that separates us from the victims except luck and circumstance.
I keep wondering if there is something we can do. There’s an obvious discussion to have about gun control (Am I the only one that wishes President Obama had a little more Andrew Shepherd in him?) – everything I’ve read points to data that less guns equals less shootings, but I’m open to other viewpoints. For me, though, let’s make these very troubled people try to figure out how to kill 26 people with a bow-and-arrow or a slingshot. There are other important issues that need to be considered such as the state of the mental health system in the United States, and perhaps even the long-term effect of bullying and being alienated from the rest of society. These conversations need to happen, but given that according to Mother Jones there have been 62 mass murders in the U.S. since 1982, I frankly am not one to believe that anything is going to change. Shouldn’t Columbine, or Aurora, or Wisconsin have been enough for people to move to action?
I think we can all do something else. Stop paying attention. We’re giving the killers exactly what they want – to be remembered. I’m no Clarice Starling, but I have to think that some of these people committing these heinous acts are seeking the attention and notoriety that they have never gotten. They’ve spent their life at some level wanting to be “known” and to fit in. I can almost hear them saying “You won’t ignore me now.”
I’m not covering new ground here and I’m not the first to say this. But, I’m tired of the media template for these tragic events – the cut-in breaking news, photos of kids running from a building, interviews with random people who know nothing about what’s happening, the focus on numbers, numbers, NUMBERS – basically begging the next deranged murderer to try to “beat” Virginia Tech; the useless talking heads who seemed to have been sitting by the satellite hook-up waiting for a shooting to occur; the photo montage with the “sad” music as the newscast goes to commercial break; the on-the-scene reporter in their “casual” clothes because you know, they’re with the people; the neighbor saying “he was a quiet boy but we’d never expect this”; the call for gun control; the PTSD experts; my new favorite, the aerial Google earth shot while a “reporter” telestrates what happened like it’s a fucking Sunday Night Football Game; the Presidential visit, the flowers by the school fence; and the memorial service; and of course – the fact that none of these media outlets will be talking about this tragedy within five days. But, what we do get is endless coverage of the killers – we hear a lot more about James Holmes (Aurora) and Jared Loughner (Arizona) then we do their victims. Can any of you reading this post even name a victim of Columbine? Virginia Tech? Aurora? Arizona (besides Gabby Giffords?)
So let’s make the media change their script. Don’t watch! Don’t post on Facebook or Twitter or run to a scene so you can post a photo to Instagram. There’s someone out there right now, sitting in his room, alienated from the world, who is planning and plotting something the rest of us can’t even fathom. The media, and us by extension, is practically giving him the playbook on how to get known. Maybe, just maybe, if there is no promise of infamy, and if the killers have to think of what to do with their own brain, they might do something else, something less grand.
I realize that this is highly unlikely. I’m not saying the media shouldn’t cover this type of story – but they should think about their role in future events. In our information-right-now society, it’s incredibly difficult to comprehend not having all the details of an event exactly when we want them. Perhaps the media can start small by not glorifying the killer’s name – just call him “the killer”; don’t brand each tragedy with a name and logo, perhaps, just maybe, cover it like news vs. an event. And all of us in return can pledge to only watch and read the media outlets who do it right – viewership matters because each of us represents $$ to them. The shows that don’t get our viewership will either adapt or go away.
The media will tell you that Newtown is a national tragedy. It’s not. It’s beyond tragic for the people affected, but if the rest of us were able to go to work on Monday than – I’m sorry – it’s not our tragedy even if we are sad and upset. Cover the news locally where it matters, focus on the macro elements like gun control and the mental health system, but lay off the all the details. I can live with that. Can you?
Until then, it’s not breaking news, it’s just broken.
My final thought. I understand why everyone is posting on Facebook that they’re going to hug their children tighter; I think that’s great, and realize it’s a mostly an expression of love and you likely hug your kids ever day. It’s not enough. We need to go further. Hug your neighbor’s kids too. Take an interest. The next time the Starbucks barista screws up your no-foam latte or the young pimple-faced kid bags your groceries without ever looking up, say thank you, ask them how their doing, show them appreciation, tell them you like their t-shirt.
You just never know.Photo courtesy of Flickr/Bruce Fulton Photo courtesy of Flickr/Lancer7hk Photo courtesy of Flickr/bluedharma