Fame, Please

Yesterday, another mass killing took place, this time in Nebraska. Quite frankly, the article on the incident is sickening.  The situation was even less foreseen than the Virginia Tech shootings, and the killer (one Robert Hawkins, only 19 years old — my age) makes a statement which sends your stomach reeling:

The teenager carried his rifle into the mall, passing shoppers and decorations.

A department store employee was pressing a suit for a customer. A woman was making a quick stop to buy Christmas presents before picking up her son from school. Christmas music played.

The gunman stopped on the third floor and cut through the sounds with gunfire. Shoppers and employees at the Westroads Mall scrambled for cover in dressing rooms, clothing racks, offices and storage areas.

Eight people were killed and five wounded before the shooter ended the horror by taking his own life. He left behind a note that read, in part, “Now I’ll be famous.” [emphasis added.]

Is this the story of our times? Mass murders are vehicles to fame? Fame, which has somehow transcended the value of life?

It’s hard to deny that, at least in part, this is “our story.” As people confront the slightest difficulties — and his times, though rough, were far from worst-case, as far as I can tell — there seems no source of hope beyond making a mark on history. And, as has been seen in killings like Virginia Tech, those names that all too often come to the forefront of the news are those involved in major crime. In a world where everyone can publish their thoughts, everyone can create art, and everyone can run their own lives, true opportunity to “stand out” has been minimized. The backlash is excruciating.

One can only pray that this isn’t a trend that will continue, but my internal skeptic finds it hard to believe that it will not. The media hinges on stories like this one; Until either humans turn to nonviolence for entertainment or the media is restricted — not a good alternative, by me — then publicity will be given to those who demand it the loudest.

And what’s louder than an outcry of nine lives?

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5 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Stephen
    Dec 06, 2007 @ 13:40:29

    One can only pray that this isn’t a trend that will continue, but my internal skeptic finds it hard to believe that it will not.

    That’s what I think, too. Instant worldwide celebrity = a recipe for copycat killings.

    There’s a longstanding tradition among news media not to publicize suicides. Everyone understands that one suicide is likely to be a catalyst for more, and the less publicity it receives, the better.

    In general, spreading information is a public service. But what is gained in a situation like this? I don’t think it leads to better protection of the public. Better if a cloth were drawn over it to shield it from public view.

    We had a more trivial example of the same thing here in Ottawa this fall. Kids kept phoning the local schools and telling them, “I saw a man with a gun” or whatever. Beth’s school went into lockdown more than ten times. Police were called. Classwork was disrupted. Everyone “knew” it was a prank after the first couple of times, but of course you can’t assume that.

    All the kids were talking about it on facebook — what a stupid idea it was to do this. The Ottawa Sun had a front page headline, “Stop It!” (or something like that). But attention, even if it’s negative, just encourages more incidents.

    So how do you stop the cycle? Will the media ever cooperate by shutting up about it?

    Reply

  2. Stephen
    Dec 06, 2007 @ 13:41:54

    Not to mention us — we’re now talking about it, too.

    Reply

  3. nebcanuck
    Dec 06, 2007 @ 19:07:24

    Not to mention us — we’re now talking about it, too.

    I thought of that, too, as I posted it. It’s the reason I commented that I think it’s either up to the viewers to stop liking it, or the government/other power to screen the media. I don’t believe the solution is possibly going to be internal, because this is the definition of a “newsworthy story”: It attracts attention, it encourages dialogue and debate, and in general it captures the attention, for better or worse.

    Either humans need to change, or the media needs to be prevented from playing to the public’s interests… one’s incredibly unlikely, and one’s incredibly risky.

    Reply

  4. juggling mother
    Dec 07, 2007 @ 14:50:15

    Our local BBC radio station refused to name him which I thought was really good. The national BBc didn’t see it that way and both named him and showed his photo repeatedly. I ‘m not sure how much “being famous” really is the incentive for these acts, but certainly the knowledge that they will neither be named or shown in the media would contribute to reducing it? I would like to see an agreement within the media not to assist with the “fame” of such people – there is no need for the public to know (assuming they are dead).

    Reply

  5. nebcanuck
    Dec 10, 2007 @ 22:59:43

    I thought about not naming him, but I honestly don’t know if it’d make a huge difference in the attempts made by the people. They still get their glory, even if it’s not named; Simply the fact that it is announced in the media is arguably the issue.

    Nonetheless, it’s true that if all media centres — and it’d have to be unanimous — decided to cut killers’ names, it could prevent someone from making the decision!

    Reply

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