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.