A few hours after the Sandy Hook Elementary School shootings, a friend who knows something about electronics came over to my house to help me get my “media” center back on the air. While he was fooling around with the wires, the television was on — probably all of ten minutes. It was the news and clearly the news had been going on for quite some time. You know, where the commentators are trying to fill air space and have repeated the same thing over and over. BUT in the ten minutes that the television was on, I heard the commentator say: “We are not giving out names because the victim’s families have asked that their privacy be respected.” This is being said as pictures of the faces of family members who have just received the news flash across the television. In front of the nation, a person’s moment of unspeakable tragedy is flashed across the screen and the commentator is talking about respecting people’s privacy.
The next thing to occur on this news channel was hearing the commentator opine that “this person was a very sick, sick individual.” As she said this, pictures of the SWAT team were being flashed on the screen. These men all looked like White Supremacists with their shaved heads, assault guns and hand guns galore hanging off their bullet proof vests and in their hands. And I asked myself: ”What planet am I on?”
That the National Rifle Association (NRA) continues to put forth their argument that as citizens of the United States, we have a right to bear arms because the second amendment (written prior to our having a standing army let alone assault weapons) says so [should we be attacked by a foreign nation] is bad enough. But then to have the media expound non-stop with pictures that, quite frankly, feed into the high drama with the same intensity that one might experience watching a movie and thereby adding a glamorous twist to such a horrific act is the tragedy we need to look at. Not to diminish by any means the tragedy of the shooting. Yes, we need to focus on the gun laws and re-consider what the second amendment is truly about. But we also need to reflect on how the news media helps to enhance these acts.
The television is in our living room (or kitchen or bedroom or family room). Wherever the television is, it is in the middle of our hearth, the place we call home, our safe haven. And yet, if we turn it on, and a majority of the people in the United States watch some television, many do so addictively, we are subjected to many intrusions into that sense of safety. To see again and again the same shots, whether it be big burly SWAT teams or pictures of the victims looking innocently out at the camera, or a plane going into one of the Twin Towers, our world is being intruded upon in a most profound way. Our psyches are being influenced into a belief that we live in an unsafe world. We do and we don’t.
Oh yes, it is media’s job to let us know what is happening. And, of course, one outcome is that on a national level, people are responding with outpourings of sympathy for the victims and their families and their community. That is good. We might even FINALLY see some changes in the gun laws in this country. But we are not looking at the long term effect that seeing something played over and over again may have. There is so much that we accept, including this 24 hour news service, as being something that is necessary. If, in fact, there were news that was worth anything for the most part being shared, then maybe it could be justified.
But an outcome with media’s insistence of playing something over and over and over again is that the sense of unease and insecurity gets hammered into our psyches to such an extent that we begin to feel alienated from our fellow citizens, our neighbors. We close ourselves off from feeling a societal connection with those around us. And, although there have been many studies demonstrating a causal effect between violence on television and violence in real life, no one seems to be asking the question of how much of the attention that is given to these heinous acts might encourage others to commit them in turn?
We speak (although have as yet to take any action) about putting a cap on the types of guns individuals are allowed to carry. I believe we should also put a cap on how much the news media is allowed to enter our lives, because it does have an influence through its continuous presence in our lives, –and mostly not for the better.
I will end with a great quote I saw on Facebook: One failed attempt at a shoe bomb and we all take off our shoes at the airport. Thirty-one school shootings since Columbine and no changes in our regulations of guns –John Oliver
Oh, and as I was scrolling down to find this quote, I saw a headline that apparently FOX News told their newscasters that they were not allowed to mention gun control in their coverage of the most recent shootings. Hm. But speak inane nonsense for hours on end……
© Yvonne Behrens, M.Ed 2012