Much more corrosive, my producer friend said, is the current trend of “reality shows and twenty-four hour news cycles” which “has engendered the feeling in a lot of people that everyone should be famous in some way and that causes a level of frustration (to those that aren’t) that can explode.” I think he’s got a very good point, in that the “reality” trends he describes elide the crucial difference between fame and notoriety.
An already highly frustrated, angry, and demented person seeing people becoming “famous” — actually, merely notorious — for acting like knuckleheads on Jersey Shore or the Real Housewives series may turn to violence as a way of seeking attention, but such a person most certainly has not been led by Batman Begins or The Avengers to think such random violence is justifiable. No, for such a person violence is a means to express their rage — which is exactly what one sees, on a much smaller scale, in those reality shows. The individual’s presumably amusing lack of self-control is the key element of such programs.
By creating a false sense of what fame is supposed to be, reality shows — like the yellow journalism of days past — suggest an easy route to social prominence through outrageous behavior. Another contributing element to such a mindset is probably the social-promotion trend in schools (where students are passed on to the next level even though they haven’t mastered the material for the grade they’re being promoted from) and the Everybody Gets a Medal culture in schools and many sports activities. When people thus indoctrinated get out into the real world and don’t get the praise they have come to expect as a birthright, their response may well be extreme and in accord with their personality type: rage, despair, positive determination, etc. In that light, it’s interesting to note that the professors who actually worked with the Aurora killer in the science program he participated in said he was not a good student. Whether that was a new thing for him and a source of serious frustration is something I’m sure the “twenty-four hour news cycle” will be happy to debate in the weeks to come.