Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Treating School Shooters like Sports Streakers

Normally on STOB we don’t go into politics, it isn’t that we aren’t political, in fact Ken and I had many political discussions during the last election. Yet, we didn’t create STOB with politics in mind. We think that there are plenty of outlets in which you can get a much more educated discussion regarding political issues, so we’ll leave that to them almost always . I say "almost" because today I may approach a political topic, but more so it is how the “real world” can learn from the “sports world” in the handling of mass shootings, school shootings, and/or in general a certain individual causing a huge and horrible scene.

The discussion about senseless violence and how to prevent it comes up every time an occurrence of it happens. Most recently, it is the Sandy Hook school shooting that has brought the discussion to the forefront. Just today the President announced that he is considering issuing 19 executive orders regarding gun control. The video game and movie industry are being examined to see if their violent games and flicks may also attribute to the rise (or just more publicized) in occurrences of mass shootings and other violent acts.

The discussion is publicized all over our TV’s, the nightly news, the 24 hour news coverage, the comedy channels “news” show, the internet, the blogs (hey now we’re piling on!), and…well everywhere. The faces of the killers in Sandy Hook and Colorado are seared into our brains by the exhaustive coverage. Their reasons or assumed reasons for completing the killings are debated, their “stats” are mulled over to look back at whether they’re historic, meanwhile their master plans are broken down and “mistakes” in carrying out the horror even pointed out; “Had he not *insert mistake*, the carnage could’ve been even more devastating.” In a way pretty much offering up coaching tips for the next budding psycho to ensure his devastation is even more shocking.

Is this good? Is this really how we should handle these situations? An argument could be made that an educated public is likely more aware. Maybe they’ll see a person they know who is showing the same signs that these killers showed prior to putting their acts of destruction into effect, then armed with that information they may be able to prevent the person they know from committing the same carnage.

Or is all this coverage showing a person whose lost all hope and feels forgotten a surefire way to get their story, their opinions, their name known by the entire country/world? To become a super villain, a historical figure, a star! Your name on all the TVs in coffee shops, airports, in homes 24/7 for the few weeks after the event, and then again if you survive the event and get to a trial, you’re back on the front page! Heck, we don’t care what you’re famous for these days (Kardashians anyone?), just get famous and somehow you matter more than others.

You’ve lost all hope in life anyway, and a sex tape starring you likely won’t get you an E! reality show cause…well depression can sometimes cause over-eating as well, plus you’re shy so that isn’t a good route for you. On top of that, you’re angry at this world that has forgotten you, misunderstood you, labeled you crazy because of your chemical imbalance in your brain. Eff them! If this is it, if all hope is lost for you and you’re going to end it all, might as well take some of those that pushed you aside with right? Yeah! Then your story will be told by everyone, maybe even gain you empathy from some. Like that colored haired freak in Colorado, you’ll be star and have multiple hour-long specials just about you!

The sports world has had to deal with a similar, though much less serious situation, the streaker/field rusher. Streakers, which for the purpose of not writing “/field rusher” 1000 times, we’ll use as a catch-all description of person running on to the field of play during a sports game to gain attention. At times, there have been streakers who do it to attempt to get attention for some cause or belief, but most of the time it’s a drunk who tells his buddies, “Hey, watch this.” Either way, why do the streakers, streak? Attention.

I've heard this comparison to the sports world a few times and I think in many ways it rings true. The mindset is a bit different from the depressing one I laid out for the stereotypical shooter though.

Your drunk, your buddy eggs you on. That knee injury prevented you in high school from getting that D-1 scholarship that surely would’ve led to you catching passes from Tom Brady on Sundays. Screw it! You’re still getting on that field, you’re still getting Al Michaels to call out your name. Slam that beer and plan your entrance, you’ll show Steve you’re not a “pussy”, we’re going streaking!

The thing is, the sports TV coverage has now taken a step to prevent the occurrence of these usually only somewhat annoying scenes caused by Steve’s egging on. How? Easy, they don’t show it. Oh sure, at times a good streaker can still get in a camera shot, but then the producers will do everything they can to get the streaker the least amount of attention as possible. Most of the time the announcers will only point out that there is a disturbance by streaker if it takes an extended period of time to get the situation under control therefore delaying the game, but even then they mention it, and move quickly on to discuss something else.

In general, outside of stabbing Monica Seles, you aren’t getting any attention on a nationally covered sports event when you streak or rush the field of play.

The reason, obviously, is that sports broadcasts have realized that if they don’t show the streaker and don’t give them the attention they are so obviously seeking, the number of streakers goes down. Why hasn’t the mass media realized this same obvious conclusion on school shootings and mass murders?


Pure and simple, money is the answer. Sports coverage doesn’t gain ratings from streakers, their audience is tuning in to see sports, not streakers, so sports coverage is more than happy to show the scoreboard rather than Free Danglin’ Bill. Don’t be confused, Scott Pelley doesn’t care if you’re more educated on national news, he only cares that his CBS Evening News gets better ratings than the ABC Nightly News. If something horrible happens like a school shooting, he knows that getting the most gory details gets ratings. Getting the newest information on the background of the shooter, gets ratings. Showing a mother of a child who just got shot react to the news that her son/daughter is dead, gets ratings.

We gawk at car crashes to see the extent of the damage, the more pieces off of the car laying on the ground the more the gawking. We tune in to the news after hearing of a shooting the same way and network execs know it and aim to profit off of our sick curiosity.

Alright, so in a perfect world all the major news networks agree to not cover events like school shootings in such a grand way anymore, only let the public know it happened and allow the local media educate people more affected by the event and who may actually need to know more about it. Suicidal sickos decide that shooting up an elementary school is truly worthless without publicity and just off themselves therefore devastating only their own families. The sun always shines and we all start pooping rainbows.

Unfortunately it isn’t a perfect world, and if there wasn’t a craving for this coverage, the ratings wouldn’t be there. It isn’t really the networks issue, they wouldn’t cover in such gory detail if not for a wanting public. Uh oh, that’s right, it’s our fault. The picture of the big scary AR-15 teasing the next story after the commercials is only there so Cascade will buy more commercial time with NBC so they can continue to overpay Matt Lauer, not to actually inform you about anything.

Yes, there is a demand for seeing streakers in sports as well. The difference is you tune in and give ratings to the sports programming because you are looking for their sports coverage, and the streaker is an interesting side item that unpredictably just happens from time to time. Even though there is that demand, sports networks can’t predict streakers, and therefore can’t promote them and plan them which then means they can’t gain or lose viewers from streakers. This makes it much easier to just move the camera to something else.

There is no easy resolution to this problem. In a way this story just continued the trend, I spewed my opinion on this blog rather than just told it to my friends and family so you read it and then make my blog more visible. So just like the gore wanting public I am a part of the problem too. Oof my head hurts.

So what to do? Well, there is the problem. You can’t prevent bad stuff from happening. Maybe a reduction in mass shooting coverage would help reduce their frequency, or maybe it would just seem like it because you wouldn’t hear about them all the time for months on end. Maybe streaking is happening at the same rate as when broadcasts gave them more attention, we just don’t know because we don't see it now.

Sorry we didn’t solve anything, but stash this idea in the back of your mind the next time something horrible happens and you get the urge to tune into a news report glorifying every gruesome detail. Just pretend it’s a fat hairy drunk guy streaking, maybe you want to take a quick peak, but you don’t need to examine every detail of his distasteful nudeness.

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