The more news coverage I see about the Aurora theater shooting, the more upset I get.
The day after Columbine, I was interviewed for the Tom Brokaw news program. The reporter had been assigned a theory and was seeking sound bites to support it. “Wouldn’t you say,” she asked, “that killings like this are influenced by violent movies?” No, I said, I wouldn’t say that. “But what about ‘Basketball Diaries’?” she asked. “Doesn’t that have a scene of a boy walking into a school with a machine gun?” The obscure 1995 Leonardo Di Caprio movie did indeed have a brief fantasy scene of that nature, I said, but the movie failed at the box office (it grossed only $2.5 million), and it’s unlikely the Columbine killers saw it.
The reporter looked disappointed, so I offered her my theory. “Events like this,” I said, “if they are influenced by anything, are influenced by news programs like your own. When an unbalanced kid walks into a school and starts shooting, it becomes a major media event. Cable news drops ordinary programming and goes around the clock with it. The story is assigned a logo and a theme song; these two kids were packaged as the Trench Coat Mafia. The message is clear to other disturbed kids around the country: If I shoot up my school, I can be famous. The TV will talk about nothing else but me. Experts will try to figure out what I was thinking. The kids and teachers at school will see they shouldn’t have messed with me. I’ll go out in a blaze of glory.”
In short, I said, events like Columbine are influenced far less by violent movies than by CNN, the NBC Nightly News and all the other news media, who glorify the killers in the guise of “explaining” them. I commended the policy at the Sun-Times, where our editor said the paper would no longer feature school killings on Page 1. The reporter thanked me and turned off the camera. Of course the interview was never used. They found plenty of talking heads to condemn violent movies, and everybody was happy.
Maybe it is just my psychology background, but his theory resonates with me as truth. Individuals who are starved for attention act out because even negative attention is better than obscurity to them. Look at any toddler throwing a temper tantrum for validation of this. Not only is the media attention surrounding this tragedy validating his actions, it is encouraging others like him to act the same way. I am not saying that events like this should not be reported, but they must be reported judiciously. Yes, tell us about shooting, that is news. What is not news is having so-called experts analyzing four cherry-picked screenshots of his court proceeding and trying to guess if he is insane or not.
By the way, I saw the coverage of the court case at my gym’s cafe. Most people’s first reaction? “Oh my God, look at his orange hair!” As if that had anything to do with his sanity or his actions. Back at Davis, I was a research assistant for a psychology professor studying child eyewitness testimony, and the number one conclusion? The cuter the kid, the more believable the jury found the testimony. The Attractiveness Halo Effect (and its inverse) are stronger than you think.
Second, as Mr. Ebert already alluded to in my first point, do not try to find a cause other than Mr. Holmes. (I am distraught that searching for “Holmes” on Google now brings up James before Sherlock!) Blaming violent movies, violent video games, violent TV, violent comics, or any other work of fiction is wrong in so many ways. Most of these commentators know nothing about the case, they are merely grandstanding to push their own agenda. Their causal theories at best are merely unfounded , and at worst, have already proven wrong, but still pushed because of their own bull-headedness. This so-called analysis also tells other potential shooters that these actions are OK, because it takes the decision to commit these atrocities out of their own hands and puts the blame on something beyond their control.
Third, as much as our society likes to pretend that we are post-racial, I challenge you to disprove this:
And on a final non-media-bashing note, I completely agree with my friend Tyler for calling this guy out as Coward of the Year:
This guy threw his baby on the ground, left his two children with his girlfriend, jumped off the balcony of the theater, gets in his car, and drives off. A nearby stranger covered up the family and took bullets for them. The coward then visits his girlfriend in the hospital and proposes to her. And she says yes! God forbid something similar happen to them again in the future, but how can she have any sort of faith in him to do the right thing down the line after he abandoned her and his own kids like that?!
OK, now that I have gotten this all off my chest, hopefully I can just get back to my own story.