Yesterday morning, a gunman went on a chaotic shooting spree in Southern California, killing four people, including himself, and injuring two. How many of you know about this shooting?
As I was perusing my daily news sources, it struck me by how casual the news story seemed, shoved between a beer brewery story and a piece about a British man dying from a SARS-like virus. It was under the heading “More News,” a link amid a list of other links.
In a society where news is instantaneous, I can’t really blame the public.
The Internet and social media have made it hard to report quality information. News networks are constantly battling to have the freshest news, the first to report information, even if it may not be accurate or totally thorough.
When the Newtown shooting happened, wrong reports about the shooter, how he got into the building, how many people were killed, and how he got the guns were splashed all over the front pages of news sites everywhere.
And what else can we believe, if not the news? Responsible media seems out of our control.
On another level, it’s not just what we believe about stories, but which stories we actually care about that depend entirely on the media. They really do shape our historical memory.
If news networks don’t talk about the Southern California shooter, then most people won’t either. Not many remember the shooting at the Sikh temple in Wisconsin because the media cared more about the Colorado theater shooting.
It sounds harshly capitalistic, but the truth is that our news is shaped by what the media thinks will sell.
A mass shooting at a wildly popular premiere for a Batman movie filled with families trying to enjoy a favorite pastime has a level of sensationalism that snatches the attention of a large audience who could easily imagine themselves in the same scenario.
A deranged young man breaking into an elementary school and senselessly attempting to kill dozens of innocent children is the worst nightmare of all parents. That’s not to suggest that these aren’t inherently stories in their own right, because they obviously are; but what makes them any more of a story than any other mass shooting?
We need to be careful about our selective memory.
Selective historical memory isn’t new; think about how we talk, or don’t talk, about the Civil War, World War II, the Civil Rights Movement (especially here in Mississippi) or the Vietnam War. But the difference now is that technology has made the presence of this selective memory more immediate than ever.
I don’t want a story about a guy going on a murder spree in Southern California, or anywhere, to be normalized news.
When I begin skimming headlines about death and mass murder, hidden between stories about the Beyonce documentary and genetically engineered babies, as if it’s old, then there’s a problem.
Let’s not put all the responsibility on the media because that’s a cop-out.
We cannot allow ourselves to become desensitized to violence in the news because that only means it’s OK that these things keep occurring. The less we care, the less our news outlets care.
The less our news outlets care, the less we know about what’s actually happening in the world.
It’s a two-way street, and right now, it feels like everybody’s standing still.
E.M. Tran is in her first year of MFA graduate studies. She is from New Orleans, La. Follow her on Twitter @etran3.