Maybe We Should Stop Putting School Shooting Survivors on TV Immediately

Maybe We Should Stop Putting School Shooting Survivors on TV Immediately
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There’s this idea that gets floated out every time there’s a mass shooting in this country, and it’s become as much of the ritual of mass death as performative outrage, anti-gun protests, and “thoughts and prayers.” The idea is that we shouldn’t speak the name of those who commit these violent acts or show their face or talk about why they did what they did. The idea is that by speaking about those who do terrible things, we are giving them the limelight they so desperately crave. It’s an idea that has always struck me as a bit absurd, even though I think that most of the people who suggest it have their heart in the right place.

In the past, it seemed weird because it seems like rarely do people commit these mass shootings for a book deal. Have some of them had God complexes before? Sure, but they also went into their acts of violence planning to die, depriving them of enjoying any of the “celebrity” they’d achieve. Klebold and Harris probably didn’t see themselves being the objects of passion from a niche of Tumblr users when they did what they did.

But my thinking on the subject has evolved, right along with the evolution of mass shootings in American society. I still think that the idea of trying to minimize discussion of shooters is noble but weird, but for a completely different reason: we don’t have monsters in America the way that we used to because mass shootings are so normal now.

If you were above the age of ten when the Columbine shootings happened, you pretty much have the names Klebold and Harris seared into your brain. Now, tell me this: who committed the Pulse shooting? Who opened fire on the concert goers in Vegas? Did Dylann Roof shoot up a church or a screening of The Dark Knight Rises? How hard do you have to think before you remember who Adam Lanza is?

No, we don’t make killers celebrities the way that we used to because major acts of violence used to be unusual. Today Jeffrey Dahmer wouldn’t even last a full week in our 24-hour, always-on-Twitter news cycle. Mass shootings are so frequent you can easily miss them because President Trump said something wild or because Pusha T dropped a hot verse dissing Drake. Mass shooters aren’t abnormal, they’re part of the fabric of our popular culture.

The world doesn’t stop when ten people get killed in a school. Instead, everyone dusts off their hot takes and gets to arguing, knowing that nothing will change and we’ll all get to go through the motions again real soon. But the weirdest thing about the normalization of school shootings, in particular, is how eager TV news broadcasters are to put people who just went through a traumatic experience on live television.

There is no benefit to putting on someone who just experienced a school shooting in front of a live camera. You know how the interview will go: “happy to be alive,” “it was very scary,” “no, I’m not surprised this happened,” and so on. The answers anyone who just went through a really bad, life-threatening experience is going to give while they’re likely still in shock.

All these news producers and reporters are doing is setting up these students for a lifetime of harassment from conspiracy theorists who don’t think anything happens ever. You’re posting their faces big and bright for assholes to call them crisis actors and say that their dead friends were never really alive. Half a decade later the parents of Sandy Hook Elementary are still being harassed by jerks with too much time on their hands, and social media has only swollen the ranks of the straight up jerks and those poor fools that think their rifles are going to stop a drone strike.

Humans have a long history of enjoying painfotainment. We’ve simply replaced the public executions with something a little more palatable, something that makes us feel less like animals: the mental anguish of someone who just survived a mass casualty situation. I don’t expect TV news to change, but at the very least maybe they should consider interviewing these kids from the knee down. Make the trolls works to find their photos because they’re going to anyway. It’s all part of the cycle. It’s the new normal.
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Cory Garcia is a Contributing Editor for the Houston Press. He once won an award for his writing, but he doesn't like to brag about it. If you're reading this sentence, odds are good it's because he wrote a concert review you don't like or he wanted to talk pro wrestling.
Contact: Cory Garcia