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Heroes and Villains: Mass Media and the Response to Mass Murder

By ndtamblyn 3 years ago
Heroes and Villains

Apparently when each latest mass murder occurs, if the “most read” sections of news sites are to be believed the lone wolf or body of killers are just as interesting for readers and publishers as the saturating updates relating to the event itself.

Even a news organisation such as the BBC—one of the last hopes of excellent, worldwide journalism—is not immune from the headline, “Who Were The ‘…’ Killers?” The many nuanced reasons for the brutal slayings they have undertaken are only a click away.

Many observers and columnists have observed that this is a heedless practice, because, even if the perpetrators would have acted regardless and many will act again in the future, sharing their estimated or proclaimed reasons for their action is nonetheless elusive, futile, and inescapably glorifying.

Some time ago, I stopped reading these articles, and watching the endlessly breaking news; it isn’t a necessary part of my work, and the life beyond is not enriched by closer knowledge of the lonely insanity of a stranger or their succumbing to some other religious or ideological delusion—just the latest individual (or a group) that somehow found the path to an utter hatred and disregard for the simplest human (and for that matter animal) solidarity.

Sometimes, with the knowledge of how fragile and unjust life is, I will take time to read about the unrelenting lists of victims; and sometimes sadly this is because there might be the slightest chance that I know them. I remember when I was living in Sydney and another crazed man took the group of workers and visitors to a cafe hostage, and family and friends reached out to ensure I was all right. While the city is vast and (for me) a memorably friendly place, that part of town was one that I would walk through often.

If someone enters a public place like that with a gun or an explosive device, they are (at least in the moment of intended terror and violence they are igniting, whether an analysis in the aftermath will reveal it to be a youthful or coerced lapse or, by contrast, their life’s work) past help and beyond explaining. I have no interest to know who fired the shots in the movie theatre, whose planned suicide bombing at Mecca was foiled, what the thoroughly reasoned motivations for bombing children at a concert were. There are no reasons worth knowing when the reasons are as basic and deranged as maximum bloodshed.

Some may argue there is an historical or a factual reason to record all information available, separate to how sensationally the bloodiest stories may be treated. They will certainly need to be recorded, but (as was the case with the Boston marathon bombers, who some in the press tried, with clear desperation, to romanticise much in the manner of Bonnie and Clyde or Ned Kelly) they do not need to be fawned over.

Some do offer themselves, with violence, into history. In killing Franz Ferdinand and Sophie Chotek, Gavrilo Princip had the war he started as his memorial. John Wilkes Booth gave his reason, and expectedly is remembered; this knowledge of his name, however, is as useless to me and deeply melancholy as knowing Mark David Chapman’s. Likewise in terrorism and mass shootings, there is no key detail of any real value—and by extension its imparting of compelling human truth—but those that explain the impacts on the unfortunate people wounded or murdered.

When these events happen week to week, and even day to day, we are all so close at all times to being victims—what a horrific word that is. It is an indignity to all that is right that people will die in this way, and it might be any one of us. I learned the names of everyone that died in the cafe that day, the gunman and his two victims, but the only motives there present that made sense were those of the people who fell victim to an unforgivably vile insanity; and hard as it may be my only desire is to forget the fatuous hatred, along with the killer’s name.

  Media, Terror
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