#046–How much would the conversation change if the media focused on the victims instead of the killers?

(Image from theconversation.com)

I am one of those people. I am a true crime book reader, and a fan of movies, miniseries, documentaries, and t.v. shows about true crime. I find myself watching, fascinated, by what’s going on, or what happened in a particular case.

It’s not about a fascination with the killer exactly; it’s wanting to know how law enforcement is going to stop it, or bring the killer to justice. I don’t think I’ve ever watched to dig into all the details of a killer’s life and find sympathy for them. I want to see how the cops take care of things.

Heroes vs. Villains, the old story.

That’s why I watch. That’s why I think I’ve always watched.

That’s also why I’ve had absolutely no interest in watching the Saw or Hostel franchises, or even Nightmare on Elm Street and similar gore-fests. Hell, I don’t care about any of the slasher flicks that have come out in the past decade or so.

I don’t want to be grossed out, I want to see the investigation. I want to know how a perp gets caught after doing so much damage, and what led up to it.

Sadly, our media says “let’s go to the killer and expose what they did in intense, gruesome detail. And let’s watch the 24 hour news cycle (doesn’t matter which channel) for the same spliced-together 2-5 minutes of repeating footage showing the killer, what they were doing, and the end result.

(Oh, and while we’re at it, let’s not bother with the names of the maimed or dead, or the photos of them alive prior to that awful day/event.)”

Yes, I do want to understand what could lead someone to do what was done, but I don’t need to see his or her face plastered everywhere. So, why does the media harp on who the killer is and dissect their life story for days, weeks, months?

A big part of is the “if it bleeds, it leads” mentality that’s been in the news forever, that’s true. But an article from Caitlin Donovan sums it up better than I can:

A lot of media focus on the killer is indeed in the vein of trying to understand why someone would do such a thing, and prevent it from happening again. But can anyone truly understand? Rather than focus on the individual, maybe it is time to focus on making very real changes to our culture. And if the news media is going to talk about violence being glorified, it may be helpful if they looked at themselves before looking at video games and movies. Can we stop being a culture fascinated by killing? Maybe the first step is to stop being fascinated by real life killers to the point where we make them famous. (Jan. 23, 2013)

How often have we heard the phrase “a picture is worth a thousand words?” With that in mind, what is it supposed to mean when we see the killer’s mugshot or selfie posted and re-posted everywhere?

That the killer is the story?

Can someone in the media just go ahead and admit that? There wouldn’t be a story without victims, just like there’s no slasher flick without a ditzy Victim #1 in the credits to introduce the killer.

I think we’ve done a grave disservice to the dead by showing the killer, over and over again. We show them for days even after they’ve killed themselves to avoid being taken alive. We refresh the story’s lifeblood when we show pictures of them going back and forth to the courtroom for trial.

We’ve given them life after death, when they should just rot. Then when comes time the victims are buried in the ground, the story ends with a picture of crying family in a church graveyard (sometimes) and a whimper. The story is over, covered and done like the dirt over new graves that never should’ve been.

That is, until the next big shooting event. And a new murdering-celebrity is born.

I used to love watching Criminal Minds (I’ve worked at night so often I’ve missed it the past few years). I remembered how often these fictional investigators made me think, especially about this fame-issue regarding serial killers. This little tidbit from Season 3’s “Limelight” episode, where Hotch schools Agent Morris on her recklessness stayed with me (especially about :31 seconds in):

The “big bossman” moments are why I always liked Hotch.

But that stuck with me: “puts the story ahead of the case.” Change “agent” to “reporter” and you’ve got our media in spades.

That’s why when I found the picture of the Aurora, CO shooter when writing my Question #044 post, I just said “fuck his name, I don’t care.” I don’t think I ever knew his name. I don’t want to know it either. Having the picture’s bad enough, though it was useful to my point at the time.

So, it’s been a roundabout way of doing it, but I’ll ask again–How much would the conversation change if the media focused on the victims instead of the killers?

I wonder how long it would take to change as well.

How many things would be impacted by focusing on the victims versus the killer in these stories? What if the headlines had a memorial page for the victims and a small sidebar with the shooter’s name and basic info about the crime (no picture)?

How long would it take for the stories of the recently deceased to come to light, for the family, friends, and community to remember them as they were and not how they died? What would a trend like that establish–respect for life over glorification of death?

That would be a fantastic change right there.

Would it budge people out of their 2nd amendment corners and start an actual dialogue? I think it could turn things around, focusing on the innocent deaths that resulted instead of debating whether or not the gun used was legal, illegal, borrowed, stolen, etc. and if the killer should’ve had one or not.

Life over death would be a wonderful change. Better than giving 15 minutes of fame to some bunghole who thinks that any fame is better than none at all, and will kill to get it.

And there are organizations trying to make the change to stop making killers famous in the mainstream media, but it’s slow going on social media (or sure seems to be, but maybe that will change).

One of them is the No Notoreity campaign, founded by family and friends of one of the heroic victims in the Aurora, CO shooting. It seems they’re making headway (thank goodness).

Another campaign to stop mass killer glorification in the media is Don’t Name Them, from the ALERRT (Advanced Law Enforcement Rapid Response Training) Center at Texas State University. These guys also have great info about what to do in Active Shooter Scenarios (hands down the best safety class I ever sat in on).

I recommend at least a browse through those sites if you don’t have much time. I’m going to keep them bookmarked to see what comes down the wire in the future.

What other ways do you think the conversation in this country about violence and mass killings would change if the media did a 180 on its coverage? I wonder what else could happen, and look forward to seeing if it will soon.

7 thoughts on “#046–How much would the conversation change if the media focused on the victims instead of the killers?

  1. bobcabkings says:

    I would have more interest in the coverage of the killers if the effort to understand how they came to be that actually led to changes in law, policy, funding, and such that would or could prevent more, but that does not seem to happen. Instead, despite it all, we end up dismissing them as madmen or fanatics, and their actions as senseless and essentially unpredictable. Or, the pundits and commentators play the “If Only” game (If only the Air Force had put the killer’s conviction for domestic violence in the background check database.) In the end, who are the heroes of our American myths? They are the men with guns, both the good ones (White Hats) and the bad ones (Black Hats), and the ones between. They are the winners of the West. They are the brave Indian fighters. They are the gunfighters in the dusty street. When they are cops, they are Dirty Harry saying, “Go ahead, punk, make my day.”

    There is something there that needs to change.

    Liked by 1 person

    • TheChattyIntrovert says:

      It stinks that there’s no change to policy when we do learn something about these killers (or think we do). Makes me wonder why they bother bringing it all up if they’re not going to use it to the best advantages. I’d rather not hear about it at all unless they’ll actually use it for more than just “shock-value storytelling.”

      Makes me wonder about the media chicken-and-egg argument: Does cable news think the viewership is high with these breaking news stories because we’re fascinated, or are we watching because it’s the only thing they are playing for hours on end? Wish they asked the person on the street for clarification. I’d say “keep it in the corner and show other stuff, then come back to it if something new has come up.” I hate the so-called “breaking news” story.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. nowve666 says:

    You’re right. People express horror at psychopathic killers but are still fascinated with them. They are glamorized in movies. Look at Silence of the Lambs. I must confess, when I read a book like Silence of the Lambs, I find most of the cops boring but the criminals interesting. The victims are sometimes interesting. In real life media, victims are sometimes given attention. That is usually when they survive. For example, Elizabeth Smart. Live people are easier to focus on than dead ones. But sometimes even dead victims are given attention. Like the little girl who was kidnapped and murdered and now a law is named after her. Meghan’s Law. The killer was really gross looking. Nobody glamorized him, I can guarantee.

    I guess when the killers are glamorized or given a lot of attention it is because that killer was interesting in some way. Charlie Manson, for example, said some really wise things. John Wayne Gacy was popular before he was found out. He dressed like a clown and entertained children. Jack the Ripper had a flare. Maybe by stepping out of the limits of acceptable behavior, they are freed to be more original. Of course, one doesn’t have to be a killer to be original. I ought to know.

    Liked by 1 person

    • TheChattyIntrovert says:

      You got a point about some victims we remember…but I’ve noticed the few we’ve seen and remembered are usually cute white girls. I’m going to do some digging, but that seems to be the trend in all I’ve read. Granted, I’m always up to reading and finding out more. Focus on the heroes and who the victims were as they lived, not why they died, and I’d love to see how much the conversation may change.

      I guess I’ve just gotten tired also of seeing all these flags lowered to half-mast on the poles whenever these things happen. And we don’t even know WHO we’re doing it for–we just know who made it happen.


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