After nine people were gunned down and nine more injured at Umpqua Community College on Thursday October 1st, many of us find ourselves asking the same question as we have many times before – why?
A study released in July (Journal PLOS ONE) drew some interesting parallels between mass school shootings and the spread of disease.
Labeled the “contagion model”, data gathered from mass killing sprees was fit into a mathematical spread. The results were very interesting and the cause even more so.
Location, socioeconomic levels, gun regulations and other common scapegoats for the speculated cause of mass shootings may be contenders, but is there something missing? Although they are important variables, the way that the event is covered in terms of media and news reports may actually hold a large amount of influence.
Start with a mentally vulnerable person who may have access to weaponry and bombard them with the medias fascination with serial killers, shooters and killing sprees and you seem to have yourself the terrifying formula for a mass shooting.
This seems to be the infection stage of the contagion model.
Jack Levin, a criminologist at Northeastern University has a very probable theory.
“It’s the excessive media attention that creates the copycat phenomenon. We make celebrities out of monsters.” Levin mentions that alarming fact that trading cards and other disturbing products featuring these killers are actually in existence.
A popular example of this is the media’s glorification of Charles Manson that made him so famous in 1969.
Manson is connected to a series of Hollywood murders but is most infamous for the “Tate-La Bianca” killings. He has been called the “embodiment of evil” and a cult following has seemed to immortalized him and his crazy ramblings. He is even seen by some as a savior or prophet.
In comparison, let’s take the 2014 shooting at Parliament Hill, Ottawa. The media’s handle on this event was praised for being very appropriate. Though his name is mentioned matter-of-factly, he is not marketed as a brand like Manson’s was. There is no slew of sensationalized documentaries.
What does this teach the public?
There is no glory in anti-fame.
Many media outlets have picked up on this, including 92.9 The Bull, a Saskatoon based alternative radio station is refusing to cover the name of the gunman. Instead, they are choosing to highlight the heroic actions of Chris Mintz, a local hero in Oregon who actually charged the shooter and saved the lives of many potential victims. He was shot seven times, lived to tell the tail and is currently in surgery.
Hopefully the contagion model applies to heroic actions as well.