The martyrdom and glorification of school shooters needs to end

By John Zawawi

Official Umpqua Community College Facebook Page
(Official Umpqua Community College Facebook Page)

I wasn’t shocked when I heard about the recent school shooting in Oregon–which is bad, because it should be shocking. I shouldn’t be desensitized to the fact that people were killed while trying to learn and better themselves. I shouldn’t be used to the fact that someone one day just walked into a building in Newtown, Connecticut and stole children’s lives from their parents.

We have an abhorrent routine about mass shootings: a disturbed individual kills mercilessly beyond reason, we post “thoughts and prayers” on Facebook and maybe throw in a retweet of our favorite celebrity’s “thoughts and prayers” tweet, consume every detail of the shooter’s life from our favorite news outlet, and then bicker about why it happens until it happens again. We put ourselves through a perpetual cycle of this, every single time.

It might be easier at this point to not talk about it at all, but we must address the issue. Senseless tragedy must be addressed so we can figure out a way to eliminate it. Usually, when addressing this issue, we focus our arguments on the lack of attention and understanding to mental illness along with the need for more or less gun control, but I would argue that an equally important contribution to the issue is the mutually beneficial relationship between mass murderers and most of the mainstream media.

The fact is that large news corporations gain ratings of tragedy. Data collected from Bloomberg Business over a three-year period shows that CNN has had weekly ratings spike after the Sandy Hook shooting, Boston Marathon bombing, Japanese tsunami and missing Malaysia airlines flight.

In return for the ratings cash cow that outlets can milk for weeks upon end, news outlets shamelessly give our nation’s killers and fiends a platform for their hate. They plaster the smiling mug shots of murderers all over national airwaves, bring in experts to discuss how the killer felt and display their last words at every step of the event.

A perfect example, and there is no shortage of them, is how CNN handled the shooting at Umpqua Community College. In a clip that has now been widely circulated on the Internet, Sheriff John Hanlin announces that he will “not name the shooter” to rightfully avoid giving him “the credit he probably sought prior to this horrific and cowardly act” during the press conference.

Directly after cutting away from the video, a CNN anchor announces the shooter’s name, age and clothing habits. He then concludes with his online posts that say “the more people you kill, the more you’re in the limelight”.

But we, the audience, are complicit in this gross social contract between the fear mongers of the media and the vile breed of ill that mass murderers belong to. It is easy to blame others. Trust me, I just did it for the majority of this column. We love to call out “society” for our issues and refuse to accept that we as individuals comprise it.

The only reason that the media has ratings spike is because we flock to our televisions like motor homes to a Golden Corral at the first sign of tragedy. Media outlets milk stories because we will drink every last drop. We are the consumers of the information that news companies produce, and we love to consume.

We have terrific power as consumers to influence change. We have the power to change what we demand in our news. If we change our tastes and preferences in what news companies produce, they will stop producing it. It is a disciplined choice that we must make as individuals, but it is one that will have meaningful and positive impact, and for that reason it is worth it.

John Zawawi is a Collegian columnist and can be reached at [email protected]