America has the distinction of being the world’s sole remaining Superpower, and is the self-declared leader of the Free World. Nearly two and half centuries after its founding, the United States remains the envy of much of Western Civilization.
Yet, when it comes to gun violence in general — and mass shootings in particular — this proud democracy has much to be ashamed about. According to research by criminal justice professor Adam Lankford, America is home to just five percent of the world’s people but 31 percent of its public mass shooters.
Numerous explanations have been offered as to why America is plagued by such a sea of violence.
Many have argued that it is America’s obsession with owning guns that contributes considerably to this crisis. According to published statistics, the United States has the highest gun ownership rate in the world, with an average of 88 guns per 100 people.
Lankford, whose controversial claims have raised eyebrows in the past, says that the very things that Americans believe make them so exceptional, an emphasis on individualism, a sense of destiny, wealth-and-fame-based standards for success — also contribute to this plague of violence.
In reality, very few people achieve the wealth, fame and prestige they are led to expect is theirs for the taking. When they discover this fact, it pushes them towards violence.
“There’s a sense in which these aspirations are subject to that axiom that the bigger they are the harder they fall,” Lankford told the Washington Post. “If you’re reaching for the stars and you come up short, that’s perhaps more frustrating and devastating.”
A lack of gun control almost certainly has a part in creating a culture of violence and it is possible that at least some elements of Lankford’s theory — especially the fixation on material success — plays a role as well.
But this is only half the story.
The undeniable fact is that America doesn’t only have a crisis of violent deaths, it doesn’t merely have fascination with acts of brutality; violence is an integral part of contemporary American culture.
Much of the American entertainment industry, including the many of the electronic games played by both children and adults are all about murder and mayhem. It must also be said that feeding directly into this culture of destruction that permeates virtually every aspect of secular life is the mainstream media.
Through giving priority to stories revolving around acts of violence, elaborating on sordid details and the unfettered usage of horrific photos, on a daily basis media outlets do their part to ensure that the minds of their readers and listeners are filled with thoughts and images of violence while their hearts become accustomed to acts of evil.
Last week, when two of their own were targeted in a brutal attack in Roanoke, Virginia, media outlets were faced with a moral dilemma: Would they abandon their longtime approach and show some restraint out of sensitivity to the honor of the victims? Or would their zeal to sell copies convince them to once again put sensationalism before human values?
The dilemma of this particular tragedy included a painful, nefarious twist: Before taking his own life, the depraved murderer had posted a video of the shooting attack. Unsurprisingly, countless users of social media, long used to surfing in a moral cesspool, had no compunctions to view and share the footage of the shooting.
Newspapers and other media outlets were divided on the issue. Some outlets showed a more humane side and — this time — desisted placing the detailed images on the front pages of their newspapers. Other papers with large circulations, reflecting the worst of yellow journalism, ignored the fact that this time it was a reporter and a cameraman who was murdered, did so anyway, eliciting outrage in some circles.
As long as the entertainment industry and the mainstream media will continue to aid and abet in perpetuating and worsening the American culture of violence there is little reason to assume that the situation will get any better. It is high time for all members of the mass media — from the Chief Executives of the media conglomerates to reporters in the field — to look themselves in the mirror and start taking responsibility for their reckless actions.