media and violence

I have a new pastime. Each morning I wake up and flip through the front pages of American newspapers courtesy of the Newseum app. I try to discern a pattern, to mentally arrange the stories in a way that provides an explanation to something, although I am not quite sure what. I seem to know that there is a theme somewhere, an answer or a solution to a problem perhaps not yet clearly defined. According to front pages this week, the key to the current zeitgeist is Pikachu. Okay, I am not just wading down a Nashian tunnel; I also enjoy the aesthetics of flipping through front page after front page. The colors. The fonts. The quirky local stories: "Robot had a 'freakish' accident..." And, a couple of boys from Alabama set Colorado on fire. 

There are murders. There are rapes. This morning, there was Nice. Of the 15-plus local front pages I swiped through, 15-plus featured the Nice attack. Big, dark photos. Big, bold fonts. Some simply had one word "Horror;" The New York Post, in its never tactful approach, filled the entire front page with an image of a slain child covered in an aluminum blanket, a baby doll cast nearby.


The violence is sad, and it is scary. It affects the way I think about my day and my vacation plans. How about you? I know statistically it is not rational to assume that any trip to a major city will end up in "Horror." I witness real humanity everyday when I leave my house -- in the smile from a stranger at the grocery store, a door held open, a dropped paper retrieved, shared laughter with a person I do not know -- millions of moments unremembered because they were the normalcy of a day, but at the same time remarkable when juxtaposed with the image of a child run over at a fireworks display.

In the midst of all this, I have been thinking about media and violence. I do not have anything new to say, and it is not a complete thought. I do not think that media necessarily makes people more violent, but I think that media is powerful. People with hurt and hate want a platform from which to be heard. It makes them strong. It vindicates their pain. It legitimizes whatever battle they are waging. "News" validates. How effective would violence such as that perpetrated in Nice be if it was not front page news? Does a sick, hateful man with a truck warrant a response from POTUS? When I think about these questions, I wonder if the most effective war against violence we could fight is a media blackout. 

I know it is a complicated question with implications worth exploring. Jeffrey Simon asked similar questions (in a much more academic and thorough manner) in 1987. If you can find it, read his Misunderstanding Terrorism. I have a pdf. If you want to read it, feel free to email me.