The PJ Tatler

The Predictable Banality of the After-Massacre Media

I would like to propose that anyone and everyone who writes anything about the massacre in Colorado save their work and, when the next mass killing occurs, simply republish the article, plugging in the new names, dates, and places where appropriate.

This will not only save time and effort, but, since we’ve already read what pundits have to say and we know all the arguments by heart, we won’t have to read it again. Thus, the news-consuming public will be spared the angst-ridden diatribes against guns, or immorality, or our broken mental health system, or violence in the media, or how it’s the left’s fault or the right’s fault — even articles like this one that complain about pundits writing about the same subjects every time a mass shooting occurs.

The post-massacre media environment gives true meaning to the cliche “deja vu” — “already seen” according to Wikipedia. I challenge anyone to come up with anything original written by anyone in the last 24 hours that didn’t follow the now traditional meme-making and narrative-setting path that every major public bloodletting has followed in the last decade.

1. The immediate rush to judgment by right and left to set the narrative before all but the sketchiest outline of what happened has emerged. Social media has only exacerbated the problem, as what used to take a few hours to infect blogs and news websites now occurs in minutes.

2. It’s always a race between “immorality” and “lack of gun control” to see which meme will emerge first.

3. A connection to something a liberal or conservative commentator has said will be posited and promoted as “the cause” of the massacre.

4. Each side will blame the other for “politicizing the tragedy.”

5. Some will blame all the publicity surrounding the event — wall to wall coverage on the cable nets, thousands of articles and blog posts, and perhaps millions of tweets — which gives disturbed individuals the idea that they can become famous by taking out kids at a school, or a mall, or a movie theater.

6.The mainstream press, in editorial after editorial, will cement the memes advanced by pundits, bemoan the incivility in our culture that allows massacres to occur, and almost always recommend some form of gun control as a way to address the problem.

I have nothing profound to say anymore about these barbaric acts. The above is self-evident and hardly original. But it is madness to continue in this rut and a little self-policing is in order.

Roger Ebert:

I’m not sure there is an easy link between movies and gun violence. I think the link is between the violence and the publicity. Those like James Holmes, who feel the need to arm themselves, may also feel a deep, inchoate insecurity and a need for validation. Whenever a tragedy like this takes place, it is assigned catchphrases and theme music, and the same fragmentary TV footage of the shooter is cycled again and again. Somewhere in the night, among those watching, will be another angry, aggrieved loner who is uncoiling toward action. The cinematic prototype is Travis Bickle of “Taxi Driver.” I don’t know if James Holmes cared deeply about Batman. I suspect he cared deeply about seeing himself on the news.

As with all the other “causes” of the mayhem we can list, the shooter’s desire for infamy is somewhere in the mix, always given a weight appropriate to one’s world view and politics. But isn’t it the one thing within all of our powers to affect?

Unfortunately, in order to alter the media dynamic and deny the next James Holmes the pleasure of seeing himself plastered all over the news, the culture itself would have to change. The nature of cable news makes it imperative that they devote all of their resources to satisfy the voracious appetite of the public for information about the killer and his victims. A similar drive for readers motivates newspapers, news sites, and blogs to give blanket coverage to the event.

So this little essay is as useless as anything else being written about the massacre. There are no solutions, no insights into the whys and wherefores of how we turn the horrific into the banal. We are, all of us, trapped in a temporal loop, condemned to repeat the immediate past the next time our lives are jolted by the barbaric act of a nut with a gun.