Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Is the Media an Accomplice to School Shootings?


I just finished watching a video by one of my favourite YouTube gaming commentators, a guy by the name of TotalBiscuit, or TB (actual name is John Bain), who has a great variety gaming channel if you're into that sort of stuff.

Of course, this video wasn't video game coverage, or else I wouldn't be talking about it. This video is a response by TB to the recent and past media insinuations that "violent video games" are to blame for tragedies like this. You know, one of the more persistent myths about the 1999 Columbine High School shootings is that one of the shooters was directly inspired by the hit classic, Doom, alongside Marilyn Manson and so on. A great, relatively short post on this subject is here, I read this a couple years back and continued to have it bookmarked, for anyone that may ever bring it up.

Anyways, my post here isn't about whether or not video games are the problem, because they aren't. My question is one that became something of an issue in TB's video - what the media's role is in propagating these shootings, thanks to their often skewed coverage of the shootings, the shooter, and the superfluous reasons thought up and put to script for why it happened, some of them stupid (video games), some of them important (mental health, gun control).

You'll need to listen/watch the video to hear some of the sources given, but TB's point is that the media's coverage of these events, often 24/7 and obsessive over certain aspects of the shooter or the shootings, makes the media an accomplice. The media can turn the shooter into an anti-hero, or give cause to misguided responses to the events, and even allow others in the world to be inspired by these actions. The reasons why the media do this, according to TB, are that this sensationalizes the shootings and makes easy money off of the tragedy.

While I personally agree that the media's response can definitely have an impact, maybe even help inspire some of the shooters, I feel that maybe this is yet another myth coming forward. I've watched CNN and CBC, and I've seen their coverage of the Newton shootings - sometimes for hours at a time, given that its usually in the background for me. I've heard a lot of stupid things, such as a reporter asking a Catholic priest why God doesn't stop bad things from happening. There is no doubt that in the time it takes to fill up 24 hours per day, they're going to have to go out on some weird tangents.

At the same time, though, the media coverage from the news will often ask the right questions - that is, how was this able to happen (what failures of society allowed Adam Lanza to commit those atrocities). Sometimes, the traditional media's investigative reporting does come up with justified hypotheses on what happened. Sometimes the people they interview do come up with good ideas and proper responses. It isn't always fluff and stupidity, because not everyone that comes on my screen propagates nonsense.

What's more, I'm a big believer in the notion that the media is usually responding to what the public wants. That is, after all, how they make money. It probably is indeed sensationalism, but people tune in to see it. You can go on about "non-traditional media" all you like, but TV and print media is still very popular and often the most trusted or go-to source of information - I include the internet-based newspapers in those, by the way (that is where I get all of my news). In order for those folks to make money, they need to keep the watcher/reader interested - and sadly, some of the sensationalism that goes on is what keeps people interested.

So, is it a media thing, or is it a cultural thing, that allows this sort of stuff to go on? That is the debate currently raging in my mind, thanks to TB's video (which, once again, is very informative and interesting, and indisputable in most instances).

What do you think?

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