Media perpetuates mass violence

Michael Williams

I was hardly phased last week to hear that multiple mass killings happened in mere days. Just 15 years since Columbine and media magic has desensitized me to the now frequent horror of public massacres.

With seven school shootings and a mall massacre already in 2014, fear that mass murders are commonplace persists.

Social stability is a myth that we trust typifies the US. A mixture of high living standards and ample policing apparently results in stable living milieu.

The media’s role in this equation is to remind us that violence not only exists, but thrives. Media profits from violence both with action films and actual slaughters.

Media’s spectacle seeps into our collective psyche. We can’t escape its lucrative ubiquity. We demand grittier, sexier violence with each product. We’d prefer Jack Reacher over Jackie Brown. If not violence, it’s humiliation or individualistic success stories. The connection? Public massacres meet all of sensation’s criteria.

Massacres skyrocket a faceless psychopath to household name overnight. The location of the murders moves into the public lexicon even sooner.

We demonize these individuals for the victims they choose, but we don’t demonize violence broadly. Rather, we fetishize violence. We are humored by the shock of televised gunfire.

Part of media’s spectacle of these egregious events is that they perpetuate an internal fear of others. We have cultivated a notion that outliers walk an edge between normative behavior and violent outlash. Perhaps the media spotlighting former social isolates is part and parcel to causing mass violence. Or commodified violence manifests as public mayhem. No matter, the product is terrifying.

A media prescription to thwarting public violence may not exist. A public consensus that violence is abhorrent must.