Thirty three people dead, at last count. The largest mass murder in American history.
In the deluge of media coverage that will engulf us, following this terrible shooting spree in Virginia, there is one piece of information I don’t want to know.
Please spare me the name of the killer.
You see, I have a theory that the warped minds who commit these crimes do so, in many cases, with one primary motivation: notoriety. They want to be remembered as the bad-ass who went out in a blaze of glory.
It is my firmly held opinion that we shouldn’t give it to them. In mass murder situations like this, the news media should not report the killer’s identity. We should not see pictures of the killer posing in camouflage gear, wearing an AK-47. We don’t need to read the manifesto of murder posted at his web site. By doing so, we fulfill the killer’s wish to live in infamy, while inspiring other like-minded individuals to do the same thing.
As it turns out, I am not alone in this thinking.
“I reached that same conclusion some time ago,” said Elliott Leyton (right), a retired professor of anthropology at Memorial University whose research into mass murder is now applied by law enforcement agencies around the world.
“I think it has been a great mistake but it’s kind of hard to get the press to come on board with that idea. I agree with you that their names and details should be very cautiously handled. The victims should be getting the attention, not the killer. American culture is so saturated with intoxication about violence.”
Leyton’s voice already sounded a little tired when I called him at 7:30 pm. He had been taking calls from media outlets across North America. Before moving on to his next call, Leyton added one more observation, which he will be talking about on The National tonight.
“One of the greatest works of 20th century criminology was Archer and Gartner’s ‘Violence and Crime: A National Perspective’,” Leyton said. “In that book, they showed clearly that, every time there was a major war, there was an effect on the larger culture. People were bombarded with brutalizing images and it kind of validated violence more. Archer and Gartner studied every major war over the last hundred years and noted that, near the end of every war, there was a real surge in excessive violence. You know that the American murder rate dropped in the 90’s, where they weren’t invading anyone at the moment… So when I gave my last lecture at the university last year I said, ‘You watch, if Archer and Gartner are right – and I think they are – we should expect a big increase in homicides as the war grinds on. And it looks like that’s what’s happening. The homicide rates in all the major cities are going away up.”
I can see Leyton’s point. In order to build public support for their foreign conflicts, governments will attempt to glorify the war effort. Certain American networks are keen to play along, playing the ‘shock and awe’ video to its maximum, desensitizing effect. Is it any wonder Americans are killing each other?
Going back to the first point, persuading media to stop reporting names – and every mundane detail of the mass murderer’s life – is easier said than done. The competition to ‘get the story’ is too intense and any attempt at enforcement through legislation would be challenged – probably successfully – as an infringement upon freedom of speech.
In the meantime, one can’t help but wonder how many sick minds are watching this story unfold, fantasizing about stealing dad’s semi-automatic and making some history of their own…
UPDATE: I came up with this theory on my own and was buoyed to learn that Elliott Leyton had similar views, but I am not the first to state this point of view. Check this link for a good editorial summary about the issue, written in 2006 by Tony Burman, Editor In Chief at CBC News.