I have written some version of this blog at least ten times in the last seventeen years. I am able to accurately carbon date the first essay because it was about the Columbine shootings. I was a Coloradan at the time; proud Broncos fan; devotee of the Tattered Cover bookstore, which is the best independent bookseller in the company, bar none.
We lived in Aurora, which was, at that time, a working class suburb of the city. Our suburb was not very different from Littleton, Colorado where the murders occurred. That mass murder was a seminal moment in my life as it was for many other friends and neighbors. It was close to home. The victims could easily have been my daughter and her friends. We even spoke about who, in our school community, would be the likely perpetrators if had happened in our school or our neighborhood. Aurora’s turn was yet to come.
We were living more than a thousand miles away when an insane clown shot up a midnight show at a popular multiplex. We had been to that theatre many times. It was far too easy to picture the carnage in 3-D and wrap around sound.
This weekend, we listened to the 24/7 news coverage of another shooting. The competition for up to the minute details is fascinating to watch on television and the internet. However, one phrase resonated with me more than any other did: “This is the biggest shooting in U.S. history.” So, now, instead of speaking of the value of lives or the lunacy of letting individuals who have already been on FBI watch lists get their hands on automatic rifles, the media has turned mass killings into a sideshow competition.
“Hey ya, hey ya.” Fifty dead and fifty-three wounded. It’s a new record! Who can beat the lunatic with the gun and make it an even 100 dead? “
“Come one, come all. If you can buy a gun, you can shoot innocent people. Once you get used to the recoil, it’s as easy as shooting ducks in a pond or people in a nightclub. They’re probably drunk anyway. They won’t even feel it.”
I am not being disrespectful to the victims, although it may sound that way. I am not introducing the element of religious hatred and homophobia that seems to permeate our current society. I am not disregarding the African American prayer group, the Jewish community center, or the Sikh prayer hall that have all been targeted in the recent past. I am certainly not, for one moment, forgetting Columbine, or Virginia Tech or the children with their whole lives ahead of them at Newtown.
I am making a point about how the news of these shootings is reported by our Hungry Hungry Hippo of a news media.
“If it bleeds, it leads.” That is the old truism in Journalism, even before Huffpo and the Beast and MSNBC, and Fox news. The best stories, the ones that provide the ultimate “click bait” factor are murders, rapes and other violent crimes. We have not even finished the Stanford University rapist cycle. Now, we are on to something bigger and bloodier.
Yes, news needs to be reported, but there is a certain cheerleader aspect to the way these stories are covered that really upsets me. The victims of the crimes are secondary as far as immediate coverage goes. It is all about the killers and the numbers. News services even provide accompanying maps, often interactive, that show you where the biggest murders happened and who has racked up the most “hits”.
“Fifty dead? Only fifty? There were fifty-three more people shot”, the pretty “talking heads” challenge viewers. “I bet you could do better. You could make it an even hundred.”
I subscribe to a number of nostalgia sites for the 1950s and 1960s. On these sites, we recall a TV channel spectrum that stopped at three plus a public television station for a total of four. The broadcast day began with Old Glory waving and ended with a test pattern. I am reminded that, in those days, there was a finiteness to the amount of news coverage we were saw. The first hint of what was to come was John Kennedy’s assassination in 1963. Then the TV hours multiplied. Coverage of Martin Luther King’s assassination and Robert Kennedy’s assassination was omnipresent. “Uncle” Walter Cronkite and Chet Huntley and David Brinkley served Vietnam nightly at dinnertime. We saved the front pages that screamed headlines about the assassinations and the fall of Saigon. Now, there are barely any newsprint papers to save.
The believable journalists have been replaced by pretty people, what a friend of mine used to call “8”X10” glossies.” These faux-reporters train in the ways of happy news, fake news, and stories that play to your political bias.
Now we have entered the Network world of broadcasting. Say it loud, make it magnetic and people will watch.
Until one day, we have all had enough, and we open our windows and doors and take to the rooftops and scream, “I’m mad as hell and I’m not going to take it anymore.”
I am mad, today, not just at the manipulative TV reporting or the glorification of the shooter.I’m mad that, as a country, we can’t agree that having guns in civilian hands requires a much, much higher level of responsibility and certain guns should be restricted to members of the military and law enforcement.
I am furious that it has all become an evil game as perpetrators aim to rack up more points that the killer who went before them. We need to acknowledge that the constant bombardment of information about the shooters invites copycat murders.
Here is what you can do, today:
- Turn off the TV.
- Shut down the blue screens.
- Turn off the beep-beep-beep that alerts you to news alerts on your smart phones.
- Reconnect with people, all people, even people who are vastly different from you.
- Attend a religious service that isn’t yours. You will be amazed how your perspective will change.
- Donate to a cause that does good in the world. It doesn’t have to relate to this event. We need world repair in every corner of this planet.
- Turn on music.
- Model for the young people in your life that you embrace positive change so that they will follow your lead.
- Read the writings of Mahatma Gandhi, or at least google a page of his quotes. Here is one to start your meditation: You must not lose faith in humanity. Humanity is an ocean; if a few drops of the ocean are dirty, the ocean does not become dirty.
Killing should never be a contest. At the very least, it should cause to reflect on how we can improve the human condition and how each death makes us more responsible for controlling the actions or our society.
Here’s some Louis Armstrong to bring back memories of a simpler time.