Aurora and our deadly sins

Is the media to blame for the Aurora shootings?

I would like to make the case that it is, not for any specific action that any specific media outlet has taken, but by its very nature.

In 1970, Alvin Toffler published his seminal work, Future Shock, in which he predicted that one of the big challenges that we would face in the here-and-now is an over-saturation of media-mediated information stimuli. I believe that he predicted this more accurately than even he imagined.

I propose that the most pernicious damage wrought by the media is the way that it amplifies the worst in human nature. Our Judeo-Christian heritage likes to emphasize the seven deadly sins destructive to our nature and our relationship with God, to whit: gluttony, greed, anger, envy, sloth, lust and pride.

We live in an unheard of access to wealth and information. It isn’t hard to see how our material cornucopia enables the sins of Gluttony and Greed. We are a society, as Dinesh Dsouza famously remarked, where even the poor can be fat. Sloth, well…we have a welfare state that does its utmost to protect our citizenry from the consequences of sloth, so naturally we have more of it. Anger? We enjoy a world of violent sports, video games and cinema and our media rewards demagogues for whipping-up resentments based on race or class. Flash mobs, anyone? What about Lust? Even small children have ready access to pornography in popular magazines, the cinema or from the internet…it’s being normalized. Envy? Messages that stoke peoples’ sense of entitlement to other peoples’ labor and possessions find a ready audience. The media constantly reminds us of how much “the other” has that we don’t.

The most deadly of sins, according to the ancients, is pride or vanity. It is pride that drives people to seek fame, be it by demanding the latest fashions, coloring their hair, decorating their bodies, performing on American Idol or filming themselves having sex or beating up innocent people. Pride or vanity is the craving to be noticed and acting out violence for the Videocam lense is vanity writ large.

This, as the ancients point out, has always been the case. Two hundred years ago, however, it was much harder for people to gain social approval for their worst human excesses or to get noticed for committing mass murder. First, it was hard to get the one’s primal pride messaged out beyond one’s immediate locale. Second, community involvement and trip-wire taboos imposed strict guidelines on and early intervention into aberrant human behavior. Third, when self-control failed, retribution tended to be swift.

Today, by contrast, people are encouraged by our media environment to act out (is there anything more narcissistic than “reality TV”?). We live in a Kardashian society where even young kids are encouraged to seek media fame.

People can now project their worst sinful excesses onto vaste audiences with minimal effort. Once having done so, they are guaranteed 24/7 news coverage, book rights, movie scripts and the protective umbrella of the modern justice system. Whoo-hoo! The Joker rules!

Holmes, like a string of mass murders before him, wanted fame. He wanted to be noticed. Because his pride got the best of him. Our media culture provided all the tools that he needed to amplified the worst consequences of his human nature. Take away our media-saturated environment and there would not be nearly the incentive.

So, what say you? How do we fix this?

“It was pride that changed angels into devils; it is humility that makes men as angels” – St. Augustine of Hippo.

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Comments

  1. says

    Great post, Danny.  To answer your question, I don’t think we do.  I’ve already suggested that the media shouldn’t show the guy’s picture, but such a ban is unenforceable and wouldn’t be nearly enough anyway.  Of course, the Internet makes matters that much worse.

  2. Oldflyer says

    Always enjoy the thought provoking offerings of Danny and DQ.
    I think that the media culpability is two pronged. 
    First, we are well aware that the news media feeds the narcissistic impulse by sensationalizing aberrant behavior.  The surest way to achieve the legendary 15 minutes of notoriety is to perform a horrific act.  The perpetrator becomes an object such intense media fascination that it should satisfy the most  acute craving for attention.  It is obvious that the surest way to achieve sensational notoriety is to conduct a massacre.
    On the other hand the media, in all forms, are simply too supportive of the destructive aspects of contemporary culture.  No, I am  not a mental health, or behavioral, professional, but it just seems obvious that a steady diet of violence in music and film will have its effect.  Not on everyone to be sure; but, certainly on the vulnerable mind.  Hyped by various media sources, and condemned by few, or none, this genre has become ubiquitous. The impressionable mind can literally gorge itself on depictions of gratuitous violence to the point of becoming inured to the horrors; and probably incapable of separating fantasy from reality.  We focus on those who act in a sensational way, but I suspect there is a grinding effect on many others whose behavior is influenced negatively to a lesser degree.   I do not recall any Big Media voices condemning this aspect of modern culture. 

  3. lee says

    Legal Insurrection posts pictures people send him of bumper stickers. Usually he fuzzes out the license plate, but recently,there was a picture where the vanity tag was part of the package: it was HUBRIS. I find it distressing that someone would choose to put HUBRIS on their car, shouting out to all that that is something that matters to him. (I used to have a vanity tag. Sure, it was to show how clever I was, but it was also something that I thought would cheer people up, if they could solve it. It sai, once solved, don’t worry.) The owner of the car either values hubris, doesn’t know what it means, or is accusing other drivers arround him of the sin of hubris. Either way, I am truky ashamed to drive the same car as this person. Oh, wait! I mean, I think either way, it says a lot about the owner of that car, and possibly something about our current culture.
     
     Here’s the link: http://legalinsurrection.com/2012/7/he-is-the1/

  4. lee says

    I don’t know what the problem is, but the above link doesn’t go to it. So either copy and paste the address, or just go to Legal Insurrection and type “hubris” in the search, and the post will come up.

    (I have problems typing in the comment section here. It could be my tablet and my browser. But it is so tiny, and I can’t enlarge it, so it is tought to read until after I post it. Plus, the autocorrect doesn’t work. Also, I can’t copy and paste. And I am not sure why the extra characters showed up in the link I typed in above. Sorry to inconvenience you all!)

  5. jj says

    I was occasionally a discordant voice (imagine that!) in the halls around 30 Rock – which an amazing number of people don’t believe is a real place.  Having a journalism background – a real one -  I held to the opinion that you report the news and that’s it.  It was continually pointed out to me that this practice would make the network news half hour and the 11 PM local news half hour about five minutes long.  To which I have been known to respond: “and so?  98% of the people who watch the 11 PM local shot only give any sort of damn about the weather, the rest of it’s fill – and the network feed is generally background noise nobody listens to for dinner anyway.”  Of course I was being a touch flip: TV, as everybody forgets, is a business.  News shows, which cost nothing to produce and as a consequence are like finding money on the street for local stations – and for the networks – are important positives for the bottom line.
     
    The Aurora, Colorado shooting, (not, by the way, Aurora, Colorado’s first adventure with a whacked-out gunman; maybe Aurora, Colorado should be outlawed by congress) should have taken around thirty seconds to report, because about thirty seconds’ worth is all anyone knew.  Or in fact to this day knows, in the sense of “knows” – not  “thinks,” or “guesses,” or “speculates.”  Here’s the whole story:  “There’s been a shooting in the Whatever-it-Was Theater in Aurora, Colorado, at the midnight showing of the latest entry in the Batboy series.  A lone gunman went in wearing full body-armor and orange hair, and opened fire in the crowded theater wounding however-many-we’re-up-to and killing 12.  The cops arrived, took him into custody, and a bunch of fat-assed ossifers, for some reason heavily armed enough to hold off the Chinese Army, are at this very moment standing around talking amongst themselves and trying to look alert as hell.  Every now and then one uses a cell-phone.”  That was it: that was the whole story.  To this day, it’s the whole story, in the “news” sense that “story” means “what happened.”  As somebody pointed out in an earlier post: Who, What, When, Where.  “Why” is fun, but it’s bullshit – not news.  It doesn’t belong anywhere near the news.  What anybody was thinking, how anybody reacted (unless they pulled out their own gun and brought the episode to an end, which would be news), how they feel now lying in their hospital beds, their thoughts on gun laws – all that stuff is irrelevant, and doesn’t belong in anybody’s NEWS report.  You can throw it in somewhere else if you must, but not in the “news.”
     
    Instead of that all the networks flew their anchors out to Aurora – God knows why – so they could stand around looking just as stupid as local reporters often do.  (“Hi – I’m Janey Cutebutt, and I’m standing here like an idiot in a deserted Safeway parking lot at eleven-twenty at night because something happened here thirteen hours ago at ten after eight this morning!  Basically I’m doing this so the station can show you our cool-a-rootie technology by sticking a sign in the upper left corner of your screen that says: ‘live!’  After I sign off from this desolate parking lot where they don’t even have the lights on at this hour so the only way you even know it’s a parking lot or a Safeway is because I’m telling you it is, I’ll climb back into the truck and bop my sexily swarthy cameraman Dominic, who hasn’t shaved since Tuesday; and then I’ll go home to my cat, Mr. Tootlebone!  This is Janey Cutebutt, live from… wherever I am!”)
     
    That’s about what all the networks accomplished with flying everybody out there so Brian and Shep and whoever else could stand around deserted parking lots at all hours looking just as witless as Janey.  And, importantly – not tell you one damn thing that was actual “news.”  They gave you their thoughts; they gave you the thoughts of their reporters; they gave you the thoughts of local people; they gave you the thoughts of tourists passing through Aurora; they gave an amazing amount of air-time to the local chief of police – who really needs to put a sock in it, now – they gave you speculation from all the above about motives; they reported that Holmes’ apartment is booby-trapped and he bought a ton of ammunition, (here’s the “news” report: “His apartment’s booby-trapped, and he bought a ton of ammunition.  The cops are working on clearing the apartment.”  What did that add to the reportage – four seconds?); and they interviewed people in the hospital who added zero – zero “news,” I mean – to the story.
     
    What a circus.  But this is where you come out, as Danny somewhat obliquely points out.  Everybody’s after their fifteen minutes.  You cannot shut the Aurora police chief up, or even the people in hospital beds.  In a “news” sense they have precisely nothing to add: feelings are not “news.”  But there they are, on the aptly-named boob tube.  (And maybe I’m weird, but if I’m a victim lying in a hospital bed and you show up with your cameraman and want to know what I think I’ll be happy to tell you – but it’ll be what I think of you.  You will not enjoy my reaction to such a witless intrusion, and when I’m done talking I’ll propel you about five feet closer to the door with whichever foot I can swing.)
     
    Right now I have somebody on my screen who’s the brother of a shooting victim.  He wasn’t within 50 miles of the event and doesn’t know anything.  Now here’s Mike Tobin standing in a parking lot in Aurora.  He was nowhere around Aurora, Colorado when it happened, and doesn’t know anything either.  Now film of Holmes in court July 23, looking like he’s just off the shuttle from Mars.  Shepherd Smith sitting in the middle of a gaggle of lawyers – none of them within a thousand miles of Aurora, Colorado when it happened – blathering about the notebook Holmes wrote, which may have detailed what he was going to do.  (Which “may” – Jesus Christ on a bicycle! – have done that!  It “may!”  And this is being passed off as “news.”  Forgive me, but my gorge has risen to the top of my head, hit the inside of my skull, and is currently oozing out through my ears.  We were once in a pretty good profession – and we were professional.  I don’t know what the hell this is.)
     
    I don’t know what Holmes wanted.  I don’t know if he wanted notoriety, or just for the voices in his head to go away.  I have no sympathy for him, but when he was in court he looked to me to be a lost soul: not there.  Missing in action.  Nobody home.  But neither me nor Charles Krauthammer have examined him, so we’re unable to say with certainty.  But I’ll go with the assumption based on what he looked like, and say: stop drawing inferences for the larger society from it: you cannot draw inferences from, or make rules based on, the behavior of a nut.  Nuts happen.  They are less predictable than lightning.  And all the assumptions, thoughts, ideas, speculations, and what-ifs are not news: get them the hell off the air.

  6. Charles Martel says

    “Forgive me, but my gorge has risen to the top of my head, hit the inside of my skull, and is currently oozing out through my ears.”
     
    I nominate this for the Bookworm Room Hall of Fame.

  7. Moose says

    AMEN, jj! My wife was in the media for almost 20 years and I would say the same thing to her buddies (she left the business a few years ago; for many of the same reasons you had I’m sure). The only response would be either blank stares (like I was from another planet), or they would mention something about poor ratings if that’s all they did. Either reaction pretty much solidified my position. The conversations quickly moved on to other subjects.

  8. Jose says

    On the earlier thread DQ stated that the root cause of this violence is culture, and I agree.  And that is really where we need to look for solutions, rather than government regulation.  And to echo what Danny says above, media is normalizing and glamorizing deviant behavior.  And I do want to kick the TV whenever the “news” starts interviewing children for their opinions.
     
    But I see hope in the fact that much of the public isn’t buying the mass media pablum.  That would simply lead to TSA pat-downs at the mall and theater.  Gun sales have surged, and John Lott states that 4% (!) of the adult population of Colorado has concealed carry permits.  State legislatures have approved concealed carry in some form in every state but Illinois, and they are close.
     
    BTW, John Lott states in his latest article:
    With a single exception, every multiple-victim public shooting in the U.S. in which more than three people have been killed since at least 1950 has taken place where citizens are not allowed to carry their own firearms.
    http://www.nydailynews.com/opinion/concealed-weapons-save-lives-article-1.1121161

  9. says

    Oldflyer: At least in the area of sexuality, your intuition has been demonstrated.  Recent article my brother sent provided results of a substantial study, published in a reputatble journal.  Kids who watched a lot of “sexy” TV and movies were sexually active earlier and more often…..Duh!

    I heard a report the other day that the U.S. ranks about sixth in “worst mass murders by a nutjob in modern history”….and all five (or four) ahead of us are in countries with extremely restrictive gun laws.

    Not what the left expects, of course – but do they learn from it?  Don’t make me laugh – it hurts too much just now.

  10. says

    They did learn from it. They learned that they can use the excuse of gun slaughters to ban guns and enforce slavery in the US. Because the more they tighten the fist, the more incidents happen. The more incidents happen, the more they can ban guns using the emergency laws. It makes perfect sense. Except for people with their head in the Nile thinking evil isn’t evil.

  11. says

    The media serves a similar purpose to Washington DC. Use money as the lure to draw in the most evil sons of bs in existence, give them power and influence, and let them control the public opinion so that people out in California and the East coast thinks that opinion is mainstream and authoritative.

     

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