Wednesday night at Emanuel A.M.E. Church in Charleston, South Carolina, nine people were shot and killed by domestic right-wing terrorist and white supremacist Dylann Roof—a horrible and terrifying act of pure hate and violence brought down upon the black community— and, while I absolutely and wholeheartedly share the feelings of disgust and sadness felt by many following this event, it’s time that we stop neurotically fixating our attention on these mass shootings, because it is unhealthy and creates the right atmosphere for further extremism to come slithering out of the mist and rear its ugly head.
Certainly, we cannot ignore these senseless acts of viciousness—nor should we avoid the much needed conversation on normalized racism and the fanaticism that stems from it in this country—but we need to have a dramatic shift in the way we deal with and report on occurrences like the shooting in Charleston, because, under the current system, we glorify acts of absurd violence and produce an environment of vicariousness, as, to most Americans, this tragic event is nothing more than a conversation piece.
Yes, it must be said that this was an absolute heartbreak and it should be reported on and discussed—especially in this case with the very poignant issues of racism facing the nation—but we should never allow stories like these to rise to the level of absurdity that they often do. Many times, when there is a shooting, the media will take the story and run with it for days or weeks, endlessly obsessing over every little detail of the killer’s life and motivations—often showing random footage of them and sharing their manifesto—and eagerly displaying wall-sized photographs of the murderer’s face for the clutched public to feed on. I understand that the media loves to take heartrending stories, embellish them with melodramatic headlines, debate with a never-ending influx of experts waiting to discuss just how horrible the situation really is, and subsequently charge forth into the orgasmic realm of high viewer ratings, but sensationalizing mass killings—even when condemning them—is a very dangerous game, because it encourages other radicals to commit similar acts of terror.
Forensic psychiatrist Dr. Park Dietz has been saying for years that the media breeds and perpetuates the cycle of mass murders and that they need a systematic and ethical change in their methodology of reporting on things of this nature. In an interview on the show “Crime Time,” Dr. Dietz said that the kind of infatuated and overzealous coverage of these killings “traumatizes viewers” and that, “make no mistake, people are harmed by watching this.” He went on to say, “it’s the electronic media that have the ability to arouse emotion so powerfully that they can cause someone who has already been paranoid, depressed, a loner, blaming other people for all the problems in his life, say to himself, ‘yeah, that guy’s just like me—I’m going do it and I’m going to kill more than he did—people are going to remember who I am.’ Now, of the ten people watching the coverage who felt that way, only one of them will do it tomorrow, but that’s one more than would have happened had there not been that coverage.”