Thursday, April 19, 2007

Media Promiscuity and Idiocy: Making the Massacre Maker a Celebrity

Shortly after the gun shots had ended, the smoke had cleared, the bodies were identified and recovered, the blood stains washed out, and just as the family, friends, and Virginia Tech community began to feel the shock waves and begin their lamentation and grief, NBC releases video provided by our newest posthumous celebrity, the Massacre Maker (MM) himself (who does not deserve to be named).

MM may have been desperately evil, but he could read the media culture. He remembered Columbine, the endless depictions of the killers, their afterlife celebrity. He knew how to cash that deadly check. Send them a video. It would be irresistible. Now those who watch television (I not among them) are inflicted with the venomous and homicidal ravings of a mass murder. The trauma is pointlessly exacerbated. To what end?

Laura Ingram, to her credit, refused to air the audio from MM on her talk radio program. She showed a sense of decency in this. Apparently, she is alone. Other programs are giving MM plenty of airplay. When Dennis Miller talked about it, he had the perpetual snicker in his voice, despite the gravity, the insanity, the terror of it all. I turned him off. This is no comedy; it is a tragedy.

One cannot possibly come to terms with an evil of this severity through the medium of television. It can only make matters worse. The talking heads have nothing to say. (If, perchance, a wise person were interviewed, she would not be given enough time to develop any cogent comments.) But the violence is rehearsed. MM is celebrated and made yet another celebrity--there for all his imitators to see.

The media culture of the United States rarely has the courage to say, No. No, to obscene scenes of mass murderers. No, to sticking microphones in the faces of shocked students. (They did it after Columbine, too.) No, to instant reporting with nothing to report. No, they cannot say, No.

Horrendous evils call for strong measures: for deep introspection; for serious prayer; for meditation on the shortness and fragility of life, the culture of death that stalks the United States, for lament; for action that might prevent further atrocities in the midst of what is supposed to be a hallowed institution meant to ready young people for responsible adulthood--the University. Yet much of the secular university is teaching nihilism: nothing is sacred, nothing is true, nothing is worth living for. And some act it out, amazingly enough.

Nihilism is a lie; but don't expect the television networks to explain this to you. They cannot; it would be death for their ratings. But Christianity explains the origin and meaning of good and evil; it gives hope based on objective realities. It promotes courage and offers the knowledge of God, the human soul, and much more. Let this be a call to redouble our efforts to bring this liberating truth to the university, to the media, and to the world at large. Time is running out, and things are getting worse...

Addendum (4-20-07): Hugh Hewett has also refused to run any audio of MM and even refrains from using his name unless necessary.

30 comments:

Tom said...

Although I don't share your across-the-board antipathy toward TV, I fully agree that the video and still pictures in the package MM sent to NBC should not have been shown on television. And the fact that the pictures of MM aiming the murder weapons at the camera are plastered all over news websites just makes it worse.

Douglas Groothuis said...

Tom:

Share the antipathy. Go all the way. It is worth it.

DG

Frank Walton said...

Yeah, I thought that they showed this maniac WAY too early after the killings. In fact, I would have been satisfied had they decided not to show any of this guy's stuff at all. Heck, they even published his plays on the internet! He's a celebrity now - JUST LIKE HOW HE WANTED IT. When I saw the video footage of him it made me so angry. I don't care if he was suffering from any illness he doesn't deserve any time of day. I'm glad he's dead.

Jon said...

I haven't seen the video, haven't read the play and could have done without seeing his face. Making him a posthumous celebrity will only encourage other evil people to do similar things. (Don't believe me? I read that he specifically mentioned Columbine on his video rant.)

Your comments on nihilism are spot on. I read another similar comment from this blog: "The only thing that I find shocking about this event is the shock that is expressed when people act as though life is meaningless." If nothing has meaning, why not kill 30 people? It makes no ultimate difference.

Paul D. Adams said...

Standing in line on several occasions this past week at my workplace cafeteria and seeing the headlines of a local newspaper juxtaposing the success of the Phoenix Suns with the mass murders of VT makes me crazy! Going from the VT news reports on TV to commercials about the best shampoo for hair defies any sense of logic or moral continuity in thinking. Just when I'm beginning to absorb and reflect on the shock of this week's tragedy from the NY Times, I've moved on to the latest diet fad or the new lower costs of Microsoft's software in China! ARGH! The disjointed nature of media reporting is beyond bizarre.

Antipathy toward the media? Much too kind of a sentiment.

Josh said...

I recently read Cornelius Plantinga's book "Not the way it's Supposed to be: A Breviary of Sin" and one of his more powerful adages dealt with the idea of "spiritual hygiene". This kind of person "longs for other human beings: she want to love them and to be loved by them. She hungers for social justice. She longs for nature, for its beautities and graces, for the sheer particularly of the way of a squirrel with a nut. As we might expect, her longings dim from season to season. When they do, she longs to long again…She keeps promises. She weeps with those who weep and, perhaps more impressively, rejoices with those who rejoice…a spiritually sound person disciplines her life by such spiritual exercises as prayer, fasting, confession, worship, and reflective walks through cememtreries. She visits boring persons and tries to take an interest in them, ponders the lives of saints and compares them to her own, spends time and money on just and charitable causes…”

Thanks Dr. Groothuis for your challenging words and the call to confront such an evil as nihilism.

Yossman said...

It's all about making money and not about making a good quality product. The idiotic lust for higher ratings and thus higher advertising revenues drives the media to utter inferiority and immorality:

(1) CNN's notorious realtime non-news reporting (did you see the cellphone video with ... er... nothing on it being played over and over again?),

(2) The Dutch media's hypocrisy in covering the moral indignation caused by the NBC airing of MM's package and thus finding a reason for showing the package themselves.

(3) A total lack of respect for those who are grieving.

(4) Clearing the path for MM wannabees.

Antipathy is indeed too light a term.

John Stockwell said...

I disagree thoroughly. This whole "hide it" mentality that you are espousing keeps the problem from being thoroughly examined. I don't believe that these types of killers are seeking fame. Why? Because they don't hang around to enjoy it. (This is in contrast to the BTK killer, for example, who essentially turned himself after two decades of silence. You don't think he let himself be caught out of some sense of remorse, do you?)

We are talking about individuals who view themselves as being powerless, and pick targets that they believe are the people making them powerless. They attack in places where they will not meet any resistance. Finally, they kill themselves to deny the survivors/families/society the satisfaction of bringing them to justice.

Just as in the case of the Columbine killers, there were warning signs well before the attacks occurred.

And just as in the case of every other pathology that has come to light in recent years, incest, child abuse, what have you, getting the information out to the public is more important than kowtowing to the fear that some peoples' delicate sensibilities are going to get offended.

So no, I say we should get it all out there so that people can be forwarned. Hiding your head in the sand is not going to fix the problem.

Jon said...

I disagree, John. I think these killers want fame, and they know that going out in a blaze of glory will get them fame, even if they aren't around to enjoy it. I don't deny that what you are arguing may also be the case; I just don't think the two are mutually exclusive.

Also, I do not want to see his video, or listen to the gunshots, or read his demented play. I'm not hiding my head in the sand; I know exactly what he did on that campus. I don't need to see it firsthand to know. We can talk about and learn from the event without sensationalizing it. This, I believe, is the point Dr. G and others are trying to make.

Paul D. Adams said...

"get it all out there so that people can be forewarned. Hiding your head in the sand is not going to fix the problem."

This assumes that knowing affects doing. I'm unconvinced that, contra Socrates via Plato, that knowledge is power. James indicates that knowing the right things does not translate into doing the right things (James 4:17). Exactly how does raising our awareness of evil keep us from committing evil? There are countless historical examples and sociological studies done showing that knowledge, though necessary, is not sufficient to evoke decency or civility. Take, for example, studies done in the late sixties by some social psychologists who introduced African history into the curricula of an all-white, very prejudiced 6th-grade class. After several years of heavy doses in "black history" (as it was known), the same students were surveyed to measure the degree of change in prejudice based upon knowledge of African Americans. The results? Virtually no change in prejudice.
While there is a correlation between knowing and doing, I suggest you re-think what that relationship is in light of history and Scripture.

Ed Darrell said...

Nihilism? This shooter thought he was doing the work of Jesus.

One of the sad things we Christians need to face is the fact that of the shooters in these incidents over the past decade or so, all have had connections to Christian churches. They may have been hopeless, and wrong, but they were not carrying out a philosophical bent they got from reading Nietzche, nor from anyone else.

We had a chance to love the anger and hurt out of them, and we failed.

Showing the video can be questioned; it can't be questioned on the basis of nihilism.

Meanwhile, the parents of the victims of Columbine complain that the details of that shooting are being withheld.

It's a disaster. Media can't win when people are so prone to shoot messengers and plug their ears at the message.

And yet media keep trying. What faith!

Douglas Groothuis said...

Ed:

I wish some Christians had successfully reached out to MM. Perhaps they tried. I do not know.

Christians should associate with the outcasts, the lonely the least, the last, the lost. There is no question about that.

But you cannot blaim this carnage on Christianity.

Ed Darrell said...

Agreed that Christianity shouldn't get the blame.

Nor should we duck any responsibility, or just evidence of non-performance. I've seen a lot of stuff blamed -- Dinesh D'Souza even went over the top and claimed he didn't see any atheists among the mourners, and tried to pass it off there.

All I'm saying is that each shooter was affiliated with Christianity. As a faith, we failed, in each case. A bit more introspection, rather than attempts to blame others, might produce real results.

Douglas Groothuis said...

I blame MM. And I introspect.

Yossman said...

Ed:

If I'm correct, the Columbine shooters were anti-Christians (a connection with Christianity in some way). They certainly acted out of hatred toward Christians and not out of some deranged devotion.

MM may not have read Nietzche, but acted in accordance with nihilistic thinking. So many people live out the consequences of a philosophy without having a clue as to which philosophy they adhere to.

There is more than nihilism at play here. It is an infatuation and fascination with violence inherent in Western culture.

Douglas Groothuis said...

Yossman:

That is exactly right. And you Europeans don't see Europeans doing this kind of thing to each other. I think your gun laws have something to do with it.

Yossman said...

Douglas:

Well, that statement about Europe needs to be nuanced. There was a school massacre in Germany a few years ago with 23 dead. The MM was either a student or ex-student. There has been a lot of violence too last summer in the Paris suburbs.

Ultimately it is not the gun laws but the underlying worldview and its associated problems that give rise to these outbursts of violence. Yes, gun laws keep things from getting out of control like it does in the US. But the problem occurs here too, albeit on a different level.

We have a phenomenon that we in Holland call 'meaningless violence'. It is any act of violence that is not criminally, racially or religiously motivated or drugs related. It started in the early 80s when a Surinam boy was kicked to death by skinheads. It was considered a racial attack. The boy, Kevin Duynmeyer, got a statue in commemoration of his untimely death. Since Kevin a good number of people have been beaten to death for no apparent reason.

It is symptomatic of a society that glorifies violence and is not able to raise up a generation that has respect for life. Our humanistic societies are reaping the results of a morality that is not grounded in the supernatural (and thus unchangeable).

In short: we have the problem too.

louise said...

Responding to the comment on all shooters including Columbine with some connection to Christianity: This is not true. Columbine was a very evangelized high school, and there was much persecution of non-Christians (see: No Easy Answers, The Truth Behind Death at Columbine, a book by an exfriend of the shooters, Brooks Brown, also my book, Scapegoating for Columbine). In fact, Rachel Scott was probably targeted because of her proselytism/criticism of the shooters. One of the shooters' mom was Jewish, and he felt the need to deny this at Columbine by making Heil Hitler jokes, very sad. These boys were not mentally ill like the VT shooter, but they became psychotic after years of abuse.
Persecution of course does not justify killing, I am just saying that it is not Christianity per se contributing to shooter motivation, but Christians behaving very badly can contribute to poor school culture and bullying.

Ed Darrell said...

Yossman, Harris was Catholic, Klebold attended a Lutheran church.

Douglas Groothuis said...

Attending a church doesn't make you a Christian anymore than attending a gym makes you an athlete. One must repent, believe, convert, be born again of the Spirit (John 3, etc.).

Yossman said...

Ed:

Even Hitler attended mass. He was a Roman Catholic and allegedly wrote in 'Mein Kampf' that his fight against the jews was' the work of the Lord'. It's a non-argument.

Christianity cannot be blamed for the wrongdoings of those who profess allegiance to it while their actions are blatantly anti-Christian.

Christianity already has enough problems.

John Stockwell said...


Paul D. Williams wrote:

"get it all out there so that people can be forewarned. Hiding your head in the sand is not going to fix the problem."

This assumes that knowing affects doing. I'm unconvinced that, contra Socrates via Plato, that knowledge is power. James indicates that knowing the right things does not translate into doing the right things (James 4:17). Exactly how does raising our awareness of evil keep us from committing evil?


The head-in-the-sand-community assumes that knowing influences doing. That somehow seeing details of a killers thought processes is contagious and will immediately ignite more of these events by those who were not previously inclined. Now, certainly there will be additional copycat events. This is true of many types of pathological behavior. That goes with the territory.

My point is that if a tiger kills a man, and people know what a tiger looks like and the shape of its tracks, then they might have a chance to defend against the tiger.

Yes, knowledge and the lack of it is power, and the individual who shoots up a public place depends on his targets not having the knowledge to recognize to him.

John Stockwell said...

Correction. That was Paul D. Adams whose post I was replying to. Senior moment.

Paul D. Adams said...

John,
Granted, paying heed to warning signs is important. Thanks for the clarification. I think the gist of this thread, however, is the over-reporting and media hype of the MM killer. Exactly how many of the details of this heinous act are sufficient for us (the public) to know? Far fewer than we're given, I suspect. The media seems to presuppose that a) any/everything should be reported in toto, ad nauseum (just look at the reporting on the identity of Anna Nicole Smith's baby's father!) b) the entire public has a right to know everything. I disagree with both of these premises.

John Stockwell said...

Paul D. Adams wrote:
John,
Granted, paying heed to warning signs is important. Thanks for the clarification. I think the gist of this thread, however, is the over-reporting and media hype of the MM killer. Exactly how many of the details of this heinous act are sufficient for us (the public) to know? Far fewer than we're given, I suspect.


I would suggest that we need to know more. We need to know the potentially revealing offhand comments, the history of their behavior, and the history of their interaction with others that could be useful in identifying this pathological behavior.

The media is simply doing its job, whether that is for sensationalistic purposes or not.

I believe that the misguided desire for less information springs from a personal belief that "it can't happen here".

Paul D. Adams said...

Stockwell says:
I believe that the misguided desire for less information springs from a personal belief that "it can't happen here".

Again, this assumes that more information has sufficient causal connection between knowing and doing. Blind naivety is one thing, but that is not what I'm addressing here. On the one hand it is foolish to think that "it can't happen here." On the other, it can happen anywhere. To paraphrase Alexander Solzhenitsyn, the line drawn between good and evil is not between "us" versus "them." The line drawn between good and evil runs right through EVERY human heart.

John Stockwell said...

Paul D. Adams wrote:
Again, this assumes that more information has sufficient causal connection between knowing and doing.


No. It assumes that mass shooters have characteristics in common that are identifiable.

Paul D. Adams wrote:
To paraphrase Alexander Solzhenitsyn, the line drawn between good and evil is not between "us" versus "them." The line drawn between good and evil runs right through EVERY human heart.


Good? Evil? We are talking about a particular type of behavior that could just as easily be characterized as "sick" as opposed to "well", or "dangerous" versus "benign".

Ed Darrell said...

Dr. Groothuis, are you saying you have knowledge that neither of the Columbine shooters had accepted Jesus? I don't.

In any case, they did attend Christian churches. Christians had the shot to dissuade them, and failed. Neither of them attended atheist sessions, neither of them (contrary to claims) studied biology and Darwinism.

My point was, simply, that we as Christians had a chance, and blew it. It's a missed opportunity. It's not the fault of nihilists (whoever they may be -- are there any, really?) that these kids went wrong. There was no group of nihilists trying to persuade these kids to dark action.

Christians had 'em, and let them slip through the fingers. How many more?

It's easy to say "not my job." But it is, after all, part of the charge Jesus gave us, isn't it?

Douglas Groothuis said...

Who is saying, "Not my job?" Not me, for one. My job is to defend, commend, and live out Christian truth with all my might. That I endeavor do (however imperfectly).

There are plenty of nihilists. Have you ever heard of punk rock? Have you ever read Max Stirner? Have you witnessed so much of modern "art"? Have you read Jean Baudrillard (or tried to)? Have you ever seen "Eracer Head"? (Don't, please.) Have you ever heard of Frank Zappa? However brilliant he was as a composer and clever (although often obscene), he was a nihilist.

Nihilism is no fiction, but is all too real, "under the son."

Douglas Groothuis said...

And I left out 90% of hip hop, which is nihilistic, and viciously so.