Friday, July 24, 2015

Won't Someone Please Think of the Foolish?

I stumbled into another conversation about how mass shootings are, at least in part, a result of "the Media" giving shooters wall-to-wall coverage, and making them "famous." As is always the way with such discussions, the solution that was floated was that somehow "the Media" should limit their coverage to sympathetic portrayals of the dead and injured, and this would remove the incentive for people to shoot people.

While I understand the argument, the idea of a broadly-based embargo on information about murderers seems unrealistic. But it also seems based on wonky data (well, anecdotes, to be precise). As I do every time I'm in a discussion like this face-to-face, I asked if anyone there could name one of these mass shooters - this time, I chose the gunman from Aurora, Colorado, considering the fact that he's just been convicted. No-one could. That doesn't seem very famous to me. Now, I don't contest that there are people out there who are VERY interested in the guy. I'd be unsurprised to find that he's already on a trading card or something. But I find it strange that people who feel that the 24-hour news cycle makes random crooks into celebrities can never seem to name the people themselves. Now, one of the people I was speaking to immediately sought to draw a distinction, claiming that he wasn't a good example. And so I asked him who was.

What I usually wind up taking away from the "15 minutes of fame" argument is the idea that there are a bunch of people who will blindly attach celebrity to anyone "the Media" places in front of them - just never the people making the argument. And so it seems like, to borrow a phrase, "the smart man's burden." Smart people have to alter social policy to protect dumb people - who tend to be people that the smart person has never actually met - from themselves by shielding them from information that they aren't smart enough to handle appropriately, because their poor reactions trigger would-be fame seekers to do bad things.

Yes, various facets of the news and opinion media can blanket the airwaves with someone's name and crime, and more detail about that person than any one human being would ever want to know. But that's different than being famous. And I think that to the degree that a lot of would-be shooters don't realize that, mental illness and/or self-fulfilling prophecies have to factor into the picture. Once someone has been out of the news cycle for 24 hours, the Earth may as well have swallowed them whole. It doesn't take a particularly astute observer to understand that only a small handful of people become household names for anything for very long. Anyone looking for enduring fame as a result of shooting up a place is bound to be disappointed - despite what people might have to say about it. Although there is a part of me that suspects that the constant hand-wringing over how people are being made famous for killing people is part of what gives people the impression that they'll achieve lasting fame by killing people.

No comments: