Del Stone

Del Stone
Fort Walton Beach, Florida, U.S.
November 25
I am a journalist and the author of many works of fiction published professionally in the United States and abroad.

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JANUARY 19, 2013 5:16PM

Blame the media for gun violence? I think not

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This video has been floating around the Internet recently. Take a moment to watch it, then get back me.

There. Did you watch it? He makes a convincing argument, right?

His points - and there are two - are that (a) media coverage provides a tipping point for borderline sociopaths to embark on shooting sprees, and (b) if everybody is armed, mass killers will be foiled by rational gun-toting civilians.

I can't address the latter, though I suspect more people carrying guns will bring more accidental shootings, more crimes of passion, and more inadvertent tragedies. But the former - that media coverage encourages mass murderers - is something I CAN talk about.

First, let's define the term "media." The author of the video prefers a more narrow definition, i.e., traditional news outlets, like television, radio and newspapers. But "media" are made up of a constellation of mass communication outlets - books, magazines, newspapers, radio, television, movies, video games and, yes, the Internet. In fact, I would argue the Internet is the dominant media form in existence today.

I find it odd anybody would blame traditional media for any of society's ills. We constantly hear about how outmoded and irrelevant traditional media have become in today's wired (and unwired) world. How can an outmoded and irrelevant medium exert such a sinister influence over people?

The fact is, American culture is drenched in violence. Consider, for instance, the top 10 grossing movies of 2012:

1. The Dark Knight Rises
2. The Amazing Spider Man
3. The Hobbit
4. The Twilight Saga
5. Brave
6. The Avengers
7. MIB 3
8. The Hunger Games
9. The Bourne Legacy
10. Prometheus

What of the top 10 video games of 2012?

1. Dishonored
2. XCOM: Enemy Unknown
3. Borderlands 2
4. Halo 3
5. Mass Effect 3
6. Far Cry
7. Escape Plan
8. Journey
9. Special Ops: The Line
10. Zombiu

How many of those movies or video games use violence as a significant plot element? I wager nearly all.

They do so because America springs from a tradition of violence. We are a pioneer nation, hewn from a rough and hostile land by dint of gun and mandate. Violence saturates our nature and we love it, because it is where we came from, it helped define us as a people, and as a result it is held in high esteem. To blame it on outmoded and irrelevant media is just, well, stupid. Don Henley's "bubble-headed bleached blonde" is not the only purveyor of violence in our culture, not by a long shot.

So what's the answer? Nobody wants to see Halo 3 banned because it's fun, and harmless - unless you're a sociopath looking for your point to be tipped. Do we embark on an Orwellian mental health evaluation of each and every citizen? Do we ban guns? Do we ban movies/books/TV shows that use violence as a means of resolving disagreements?

Another point, and then I'll shut up.

The video author suggests traditional media outlets - those same outmoded and irrelevant media outlets we've already dismissed - glorify mass killers with their coverage.

Well, if you believe as I do the Internet is the most dominant media outlet in existence today, then you must also acknowledge that if you are ON the Internet, you are a PART of that media outlet. So let me ask you: What are you doing to correct the problem of media fixation on violence? Obviously the author of the video has done his bit, and kudos to him. But what are YOU doing?

Never in the history of mankind have ordinary people possessed the tools to make their voices heard by thousands, perhaps millions of people. Citizen journalists have a chance to set the record straight, and reorient our cultural priorities from violence to peaceful accord. Are they doing that?

Not really. Mostly, they're griping about the liberal media - again, that outmoded and irrelevant component of our mass communication constellation - skewing and subverting the national conversation. The citizen journalists would rather bay at the moon than celebrate the person who took down the Oregon mall shooter, or the copycat theater killer. Where are the YouTube videos celebrating these heroes? Where are the Facebook pages and tumblr blogs edifying us about their exploits?

There are some, but not very many, and that's because it's much easier to sit on the couch, swilling beer and stuffing your mouth with chips and booing the quarterback who just threw the interception, than to learn to play football yourself and throw perfect passes every time. Most of the folks booing the media are the metaphorical equivalent of corpulent curmudgeons buzzed from huffing their own gasses.

The overarching hypocrisy is this: Every media entity - be it a video game company, a movie studio, a TV network, or even those "outmoded and irrelevant" sources like television news, radio and newspapers - are driven by a bottom line. That bottom line is money. If there's no audience for your content, you don't make money. If that sounds evil or cynical, I remind you it's the central pillar of capitalism.

And YOU are the audience.

You decide what's on the news, what kind of movies are released, what kind of video games are popular. Media are nothing more than a mirror, reflecting your tastes.

God knows I've spent 34 years of my professional career trying to figure out what people want from the media. From every one of my attempts to solve that problem, and from all the market research I've read, I've come to one inescapable conclusion: People will say they want one thing, but what they really want is something else. They'll say they want healthier meals from McDonald's, but what they really want is greasy french fries and fat-laden hamburgers. They'll say they want more family-friendly TV programming, but what they watch is grisly police procedurals. And they'll say they want more good news, but what they really want is to slow down and look at the traffic accident carnage.

If media are responsible for glorifying mass killers, people have nobody to blame but themselves.

Obviously, that means you.

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Nailed it, Del. Much better than I could, since you're still an active participant, and I'm not. One of the periodic Royal Commissions on the state of the Canadian mass media was titled "The Uncertain Mirror". That about says it for me.