Sunday, February 18, 2007

Rising Up and Rising Down: Columbine

A magazine sent Vollmann to Littleton after the school shooting. The article he wrote is mostly about the "vultures": the media who shamelessly exploited the tragedy for ratings, and also the relgious and ideological vultures who opportunistically swooped in to convert the grief-stricken to their causes.

I do think that news media is probably the most lethal thing in the world today. It homogenizes, exploits, simplifies, and cynically manipulates. Worst of all, it usually doesn't even have an's just acting this way so it can make more money, get bigger, and acquire more subsidiaries...and as I've said before, I think the idea that everything MUST get bigger and better is the basic root of human evil.

This case study ("Murder For Sale") is a vicious and much-deserved swipe. While watching a journalist take pictures of a weeping grandmother:
I watched that journalist for a while. The grandmother proved to be an aberration. Mainly he was taking pictures of little girls. I suppose that they were his natural prey. Just in case you wish to understand the feeding habits of this subspecies of vulture, I now refer you to my friend Noah Richler, an acute and articulate student of the world who's worked with me at BBC Radio and now runs the book review section of Canada's National Post. He put it to me like this: "In a way, the climactic moment is always being pushed forward. Twenty years ago, the shootings themselves would have been the point. But now the shootings are not good enough. You neeed the weepy hugs. And it becomes something other than news. You know, here we are at the newspaper, and we had loads of shots from Littleton of the kids hugging each other. Then the next day there was that copycat shooting here in Canada, and so we had shots of teeth biting the lips and parents hugging their kids and all that, and I found myself thinking, these kids aren't as cute as the Littleton kids-you know, prairie kids, farmer's daughters and all that. I suppose the American journalists had searched out more photogenic kids..."


Anonymous said...

From "The Paper: The Life and Death of the New York Herald Tribune" by Richard Kluger:

In the fall of 1883 a New York clergyman named Kemlo slashed his wife to death, cut his own throat, and as if to take no chances that he had bungled the job, leaped to his doom from their fourth-floor apartment. The gory details and the murderer's profession guaranteed prominent play of the story in the city's press, but one paper gave its coverage a graphic twist that cried out for more attention than the others. The World, bought the previous May by a gangling thirty-seven-year-old newcomer from St. Louis with a bulbous head and poor eyesight, accompanied its account with a drawing of the Kemlo apartment and labeled it with letters that, when explained by the caption, left little to the imagination: "A - Door stained with blood; B - Windows stained with blood from which Kemlo jumped; C - Bed covered with blood; D - Table set and covered with blood; E - Chair in which Mrs. Kemlo sat; F - Sink in which the knife was fopund; G - Pool of blood."

The name of this nineteenth-century, carrion-feasting publisher?

Joseph Pulitzer.


Suggested labels: yellow journalism, historical irony

Anonymous said...

Oh jeez, that IS depressing. I thought we could just blame Hearst but it looks like the decline had already started.

Southern Ontario is dominated by a few papers, but the only real tabloid of note is "The Toronto Sun." It's better than it was, but it still revels in gory sensationalism and conservative outrage. My father used to say that if nuclear war broke out, the Toronto Sun would report it after the stereo advertisements.

I think we all crave a certain amount of sensationalism. I regularly read for the latest screed against the Bush administration, fully aware that I'm getting "vitriol" as opposed to "solid facts."

Media literacy should be taught in public schools...