April 25th, 2007
Since last Monday, I’ve largely been avoiding the mainstream media, especially coverage of the “Virginia Tech Massacre.” Sure, I know the horrible things that happened that day and how a deranged gunman killed 32 people and injured 29 but beyond that, I don’t see much value in knowing the gruesome details of the day’s events. What possible good could come from knowing minute details of the killings or watching interviews with the family and friends of those who were lost? In my opinion, those stories only bring heartache and depression.
This country has an odd way of coping with unexplainable loss. Last week’s American Idol controversy was ridiculous. I don’t watch the show but caught a glimpse of some of the highlights and try as I might, was unable to avoid hearing about the Simon Cowell’s infamous rolling of his eyes. Why anyone cares what that self serving creature does is beyond me but how ludicrous is it that a show like American Idol took time out of the show several times during the episode to express sorrow about the events at Virginia Tech. What family, student, or friends of the victims would be watching American Idol the day after the killings? After tragedy, it’s become hip in Hollywood to express faux sympathy and sorrow. Live show after live show awkwardly threw in an “our hearts are with you, now let’s get on with superficiality.”
Of course the American Idol controversy was short lived. NBC News’ airing of the killer’s video and photos quelled that controversy and started a new one. Should NBC News have aired that video? I believe that as a news organization, NBC News should do whatever NBC News wants. I believe the airing of the video and photographs had extremely questionable news value but in an industry driven by ratings, NBC News clearly wanted to take advantage of the moment and grab some viewers. And, it worked. People often decry ratings, blaming them for all the problems in our society, but when you think about it, what’s more democratic than ratings? Ratings are based on what people are watching. NBC News’ airing of that footage (and the subsequent rise in their ratings) only demonstrates that people were willing to watch the footage. As a result of the ratings boost, given the chance, I bet they (and others) would do it again in a heartbeat. We need to blame ourselves for watching when companies say and air things we don’t agree with. Had people tuned out (like I did), NBC News would not have been rewarded for their actions.
All in all, I think last week’s attempt at avoiding anything but the bare details of the Virginia Tech tragedy proved that it’s all but impossible not to one way or another get swept up in the news cycle of these events. The real tragedy here is that at the end of the day, after all the coverage and money spent on this event, nothing will be learned. Preventing incidents like these aren’t solved by 24 hour news coverage detailing gruesome details of the killings but rather examinations of our society, our interest in violence and sensationalism, and our treatment of the mentally disturbed.