COLUMN: Don't blame the media for national tragedies

When the dust settles after a tragedy like the shooting in Newtown, Conn., we fall into a familiar pattern of mourning.

In no particular order, we do the following:

Convene around the American flag, using national pride as a salve on our broken hearts; send our pain out into the ether, whether it’s in the form of prayers, thoughts or a few forlorn tweets; initiate a discussion on gun control, which perhaps leads to some newly restrictive legislation whose teeth later get filed down by the pro-gun lobby; and at the behest of some crack celebrity psychologist, get all antsy about the mentally ill, heaping even more stigma onto a population already maligned, misunderstood and silenced.

But as the ritual comes to a close, nary a single culprit is in sight. Who did this to us? The answer might seem elusive, but, in reality, it’s sitting right under our noses.

Feeling deprived of justice, we take up arms against the messenger — the media.

Fingers get pointed at the latest entry in some war videogame franchise or some metal singer’s blood-drenched lyrics or the newest Hollywood gore fest.

Some blame the news, wrongly equating its constant coverage of violent crime with an endorsement of that violence. If the news didn’t give so much attention to criminals, maybe there would be less crime, or so the proposition goes.

When we’re done complaining, having long forgotten the names of those who lost their lives (did we ever know them in the first place?), we again huddle around our screens eager to continue consuming the same media we just finished condemning.

To blame perceived societal dysfunction on the media is a cop out, and it’s something we’re generally too eager to do.

I’ve sat through classroom discussions where everything from racism to materialism to the purported breakdown in social norms is wrongly attributed to something as innocuous as the music played on the radio.

The media portrays, glorifies and perpetuates nothing that doesn’t already have a firm foothold in our culture. It’s society’s magic mirror, showing us our hearts’ desires, whether they are dark, luminescent or something else altogether.

If what comes from the media is violent, bizarre or trivial, the only explanation is that the culture we’ve nurtured is as well. Certainly nothing the media does should be beyond reproach, but none should lose sight of the fact that the media is only what we allow for it to be.

Looking in the mirror and seeing something as painful and gruesome as the shooting in Newtown, Conn. is not pleasant, but it is our reality.

If we can’t stand it, let’s change it.


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