When I first heard about the Sandy Hook shooting, I paid attention for maybe an hour — and then I turned off the TV.
Don’t get me wrong; I didn’t want to stop watching. My heart ached for the parents, friends and community affected by this horrendous crime against humanity. I couldn’t get the image of those parents heading back home to an empty house and wrapped Christmas gifts out of my head. I was devastated.
And yet when I watched the TV and the news coverage of the ongoing tragedy, I was sickened. Not just by the man who committed those atrocities, but also by the news stations themselves for obsessing over the event. I feared that they would spend weeks on this tragedy, invading the lives of those affected and highlighting the life of the shooter. I even dreaded what would happen if another such event occurred, cringing at how the media would either eclipse the Sandy Hook shooting if another massacre happened elsewhere, or how they would belittle other atrocities should they not be as deserving of airtime as the Sandy Hook coverage. And in the next month, sad to say, my gut feeling proved right.
It’s not new for the media to obsess over undue violence and criminal acts that “shock the nation” (quoted from every news outlet ever).
That’s what brings in the ratings, after all. But because the Sandy Hook massacre was so different and appalling, there has been an even louder outcry from the public about the treatment of such violence by the media. And one of the largest and most reasonable arguments against the constant widespread depiction of these events is that the airtime makes these massacres even more popular.
I mean, it makes sense. The people who commit or consider acts of violence usually want some sort of attention for whatever reason — they could be trying to alleviate their suffering, furthering some demented agenda or they could simply be in it for the limelight; whatever the reason is, they do it so people will pay attention to them.
And sadly, with the way our mass media culture works these days, they get that attention. In situations like the Sandy Hook shooting, and other shootings that occur across the nation, the media only really pays attention to the actual event and the individual behind the actions. They can’t bother the families of the victims because it would be morally wrong.
But the man or woman who pulls that trigger is not looked at as a normal human being anymore — they are now an anomaly that the media must probe and get to understand by digging up whatever personal information they can find.
And so, when other people in the United States bordering on the edge of sanity see this person get the attention they were looking for, they may suddenly feel that if they did something similar, they might be able to get the same amount of attention as their predecessor.
I can’t tell you if there’s a direct correlation, but after Sandy Hook, the public was made more aware of mass shootings throughout the rest of December.
In these cases, however, the tragedies usually weren’t large enough to remain a blip on the media’s radar for very long, and the victims of these acts of violence were put on the fringe and merely added to a list of the people affected by the aftermath of Sandy Hook. But is that fair? Are the people who were involved in these additional acts of violence less deserving of our sympathies than those from Sandy Hook? I argue no.
And the fact that the media mentions them only once in the 9 o’clock news one night isn’t fair.
I’m not trying to be hypocritical — I’m not saying that all shootings should be highlighted and we should be made aware of them all. I’m simply pointing out the discrepancy in the media’s portrayal of similar events, and how disturbing it is that a criminal should get more airtime than victims of the same or similar crimes.
So should we simply not learn about these tragedies?
Should our news maintain a constant stream of utopian happiness?
For other long-winded reasons, I think the news should always retain some sort of realism in their reports.
What they shouldn’t do, however, is take a tragedy and abuse it until it is more convoluted than it has to be.
Why focus on a villain of a massacre instead of the everyday hero or heroine that died to protect others? The villain exists, yes, but why allow them to use the bodies of innocents to pave their way into our television sets and our lives? It’s that type of attention that is the tragedy.
Alec Snavely is a third-year English and electrical engineering double major. He can be reached at email@example.com.