Predictable: The Fragmented Media Will Give Us All Our Post-Oregon-Shooting Outrage Blankets
from the two-minutes-hate dept
As you no doubt have heard by now, and as we already tangentially discussed earlier, there has been yet another mass shooting in America. This time, it came to Oregon, where a single gunmen made his way into a community college and managed to murder nine innocent people, injure others, before his own life was extinguished, either by his own hand or by those of law enforcement. And, as we wake up the next morning, anyone with any interest in civil society and culture grapples with the story. President Obama remarked that these stories have become routine, seeming to suggest that everyone has become numb to these events, accepting them as part of the American life. He’s wrong about that. Desperately and importantly wrong. Instead, the truth is that the public is the opposite of numb. The public is angry. Unfortunately, because of the way that a fragmented and ideologically aligned media landscape has emerged in the past two decades or so, we all end up angry about different things, with our outrage stoked and guided in avenues that put us at odds with those that have had their outrage stoked and guided in entirely different avenues.
Predicting these avenues is trivially easy. A cursory glance at the story of a mass shooting and the media reaction to it provides everything required to act as a Nostradamus for the outrage outlets we will see. Over the next few days, we’ll hear stories about the gunmen being from a broken family, with traditional family breakdown serving as a punching bag for remorse. Some outlets will discuss the shooter’s video game hobby. Or his interest in horror movies and novels. Some outlets will focus on his access to guns, while others will focus on his reported targeting of Christians and religion. Still others will scream “false flag!”, sadly undermining the very real lives lost and lives shattered through injury and terror. Too many of us, a majority of us, will ingest the news of the shooting in the medium and outlets of our choice, chosen specifically because that medium and outlet feeds us the meal we want the way we want it. Cable news started this, of course, planting flags of partisanship in a realm once at least thought to be dominated by facts. Spin-masters will work their magic, taking dead bodies and boldly morphing them into causes and outrage. Meanwhile, the shooter gets exactly what these shooters want: fame. Rather than employing the seriously genius “some asshole initiative” by refusing to name these shooters or focus on them in any way, we’ll do the opposite and turn on the spotlights. We will be distracted.
Put another way: we will retreat. Retreat away from the horror of death and into the comforting arms of the outrage that lets us feel like it all means something else to us. Here’s what you’ll see. A discussion about guns will arise before quickly falling away and nothing will happen. A conversation about 4chan, and other internet sites, and whether or not more needs to be done to police the internet looking for potential killers will be sparked, but nothing will happen. Some will lament the decline and/or targeting of religion in America, wondering aloud, stupidly, if too much religion or not enough of it is responsible for the killings, but nothing will happen. Violent media, be it games, movies, or novels will be trotted out as sacrificial lambs for our anger, but nothing will happen. From the fringe will be another crowd, bleating that none of this actually happened and that it’s all fake news and actors playing out a game of gun-snatching that never seems to actually materialize, because nothing ever happens.
Why? Because we retreat to fragmented media and mediums that focus our outrage onto the target of our choice. Facts matter little if at all, as one can tell by the speed with which reports and reporters begin funneling our outrage. This is a problem, one started by mass media and continued, unfortunately, on the internet. There’s nothing wrong with choice, of course, when it comes to us choosing our media outlets. The problem as I see it is when the choices become fragmented by political or ideological lines. The fact that we can name a media outlet and guess with an unfortunate amount of accuracy exactly what spin will be put on the reporting of a mass shooting is a problem. The answer to that problem is, as usual, the dropping of ideology, of political dogma, of the retreat. So, as you read the news about this reporting in the coming weeks, notice the rush to find factors of blame and reject them.
The news is that this was a tragedy. The sad news isn’t just that we’re not going to do anything about it, but rather that we’re not going to do anything about it even though we all have a cause in it.