Someone posted an opinion piece on Facebook by some guy gleefully retelling how a journalist had interviewed him about the Columbine shootings in the hopes of confirming a link between movies and violence. The guy smugly told the journalist that news media media probably played a much greater role as inspiration because, you know, shoot people and you get famous.
I am not entirely sure how people handle the cognitive dissonance of claiming that one form of expression is more effective at spreading ideas than another. At best it's splitting hairs and at the worst it's raging, delusional dishonesty.
Either you believe that people can be inspired by the words, artistic expression and actions of others -- books, movies, video games, athletes, criminals -- or you don't.
You can't pick positive influences like Eleanor Roosevelt and pretend like the negative ones, Ted Bundy, have no power. Nor can you pick a medium, news, and pretend another, movies, has no power.
Take TED, the very core of TED is "ideas worth spreading", and compare it to lobbyists for the video game industry arguing that there is no link between video game violence and violent behavior. It's.bizarre, either you believe you can be inspired or you don't. A cursory search on google returns studies that support the link between video game violence and ones that reject it. I don't know what the general consensus in the scientific community is, but we are susceptible to ads, we claim to be inspired, we have abundance of pro-verbs along the lines on "the sword is mightier than the pen", so even if our beliefs about the ability to inspire and be inspired are largely based on faith we are obliged to be consistent.
Posthumous fame seems to me a rather outlandish motivator (perhaps I am just weird like that), but it's lopsided to say that news media creates the hunger for fame. I'd suggest that news media mirrors our society's hunger for fame. Isn't being famous, even infamous, the pinnacle of success? Doesn't news media simply reflect our preferences in a way that ensures that largest amount of consumers?
And it's more than a little dishonest to pretend like our abundance of violent TV shows, movies, books, isn't a symptom of our excitement at being horrified. I think the news guys kind of caught on to that too.
In addition, I am not certain what message NOT covering an event that killed 20 young children would send. Getting killed is final, it seems to me there is no amount of coverage that can reflect that.
What would the ideal news coverage of a tragedy like this one look like? Do we set a time limit; you can report about it for 24 hours, not more, or you can spend 10% of each news show covering it? Do we say, you can only talk about the consequences not the perpetrator? Should we withhold the name of the perpetrator, thereby denying him or her fame? Should we ban the type of timelines of the "worst mass shootings in recent history", that the Associated Press published yesterday, which contained the names of the gunmen and the death toll, but not the names of the victims? Should we insist that the names of the victims are always included in the coverage?
If you are going to blame someone it's only fair that you supply solutions, otherwise you'll just come off as a whiner looking for, you know, fame.
Personally, I think we as a society have to agree on a set of values, let's call them "morals", and then set about spreading those and trying to live up to them.
Edit Monday, December 17, 2012
As an aside, I am pretty sure I got the idea of cutting (self harm) from a book -- I definitely romanticized both depression and cutting for a very long time -- but the relentless sadness, the excessive sleeping, the agoraphobia were not inspired. I think the same may be true in general, the seed is there, hearing about something similar is the fertilizer.
The power of inspiration, and that seed, is what makes pro-ana (websites with tips and tricks for anorexics, such how to hide that you are not eating) sites so scary, and this is also why you're generally not allowed to talk about suicide and self harm in group therapy.