Thursday, April 19, 2007

Reflecting on Virginia Tech

If the tragedy at Virginia Tech has done anything this week, it's at least caused a lot of people to question the role of our popular media in contributing to what happened.

- Does the instant fame these killers get push others to step over the line as well, seeking the glory that comes with infamy?

- Does the wall-to-wall media coverage, which seems shockingly similar each time one of these events happen, desensitize us to the real horror of what has happened?

- Are we able to more easily accept what's happened (and push back against attempts to stop it from happening again) because we see stuff like this all the time in books and movies and video games?

There has been a lot of stuff written about what's happened in the last few days (see the results of this Technorati search on Virginia Tech) and I'm not sure I even want to add to what's out there. But I have a few observations and some links to some other people's comments that I want to share with you.

From the mouths of babes

The day after the shootings, I was driving three boys home from school - two 11-year olds and one nine-year old. I asked them if they had heard about what happened.

"Oh yeah. Thirty-three people dead. A bunch injured. Pretty bad," one boy piped up immediately. The other two were less sure about what had happened.

All three are avid players of video games and are familiar with shoot-em-up games, so I asked whether they thought games like that might affect someone to the point that they could do something in real life.

"That's just so stupid," they all piped up. "Sure, some guy somewhere is going to claim that there's a link, but I play those games all the time and I've never killed anybody."

"Me either," the other two chimed in.

"Sure, it won't affect you guys," I suggested. "But what about someone who is maybe not completely stable? Do you think someone like that might be affected by a game that lets you kill anyone you want indiscriminately?"

They thought about that one for about five seconds - an eternity really, given how fast they usually talk.

"I suppose that could be true. But I doubt it. These games are just fun. Nobody thinks they're real. That would be dumb."

And that summed up the conversation. They then went on to talk about their all-time favourite, most gory shoot-em-up game, called Manhunt and how disappointed they were that it wasn't easily available. But luckily, a new version of the controversial game is supposed to be out this year. And just like that, we were off the topic of real-life shootings and safely back in the make-believe world of video games.

I hope these three never come face to face with the kind of horror that emerged this week at Virginia Tech. Kids shouldn't have to worry about things like that. And neither should adults.

The journalist's view

In the last few days, I've read a lot of stuff about the shootings. But I wanted to point you to three items in particular that you may not have seen. They are all by journalists and they look at what's happened from a journalist's point of view.

(Click on the titles to see the whole article)

In praise of reporters who go too far

In this provocative piece, Jack Shafer of Slate Magazine argues that as much as we might say we don't want the media to go nuts on a story -- we consume everything they give us. And in fact:
...immeasurable sorrow breeds immeasurable interest—not just from journalists, but from news consumers as well.

There's a thin line between responsible journalism and outrageous sensationalism, and bloodfests like the one in Blacksburg tend to erase it. If the networks weren't pinging Facebook for leads, if the New York Times weren't compiling a "Portraits of Grief" for the Blacksburg kids right now—as I bet they are—and if the story came to a close tonight on Anderson Cooper's show, readers and viewers would riot. As reporters intrude into the lives of the grieving to mine the story, they should be guided more by a sense of etiquette than ethics. If they don't risk going too far, they'll never go far enough.

Letters from the Editor in Chief: A story of victims and issues, not only the killer

The CBC's Tony Burman explains why his corporation has decided to hold back on details of the shooter and his motives in favour of giving the victims their due.
So what will be the iconic image that will forever recall the massacre at Virginia Tech?

Will it be the grandfatherly face of Holocaust survivor Liviu Librescu? Or the glowing smile of Canadian Jocelyne Couture-Nowak? Or some sort of composite photo of the more than 30 innocent victims of this awful event?

Or will it be the sullen image of the dark, demented killer?

And finally, The Tragedy at Virginia Tech, Viewed From Abroad

While we in North America are debating the merits of the coverage of the shooting, there is no debate in other parts of the world. It's the gun culture and America's passionate defense of the right to bear arms that's the problem. The Atlantic Magazine's Scott Horton has compiled a snapshot of reaction from around the globe.
Around the world, America is being portrayed as a land of wanton violence, obsessed with firearms—as the locus of a bizarre death cult. The grounds for this are not simply what happened at Virginia Tech and Columbine High School, but the way the American public has reacted to these tragedies.

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1 comment:

Donna Papacosta said...

Dave, I have been avoiding most media coverage of this horror, and I don't watch tv news. I think you have done a really nice job in your reflections here. Very thoughtful post.