I was watching an interview on Fox yesterday evening as I was peddling on the spin machine (pun intended) at the Grace College Rec Center. Fox was interviewing a psychologist (or psychiatrist) in an attempt to understand why the nineteen year-old Robert Hawkins opened fire in an Omaha shopping mall before blowing himself to bits shortly after he began. The psyche expert mentioned two things that interested me.
First, he said that the psychology field tends to lean on meds for its treatment, rather than on therapy. He said that there is a general trend to rely on meds as a quick and easy option. Whether or not that is true is something I do not know. To me, this seems like a rather convenient scapegoat, but it may very well be the case.
Second, and most interesting to me, was that he drew a parallel between the mindset of a suicide shooter like Hawkins and the motivation of an Al-Qaeda-type suicide bomber.
The common denominator? Both seek immortality.
The Religious Extremist enters instant immortality after a jihad suicide bombing: Eternity awaits with virgins and other joys and blessings. For Hawkins, immortality awaits via his lasting fame. In this information/media age, Immortality = Fame.
There is a new "cyber fame" that doesn't seem possible in any other age. If you open fire in a small town or community anywhere in the U.S., your name and face are instantly uploaded to billions of computer screens and television sets across the globe. But it isn't just your name that endures: it's your story. All the pain/anger/hurt/rage/etc. that you feel inside can be communicated to countless billions for all ages, preserved on blogs, youtube videos, and websites for all eternity. This is something of a virtual immortality.
Cho Seung-Hui, the recent gunman at the Virginia Tech shootings, was explicit in his desire to communicate a message to the world, and now even his obscure and poorly written play, Richard McBeef, will be analyzed and taken seriously. Cho was transformed from being a disturbed reject of society to being a disturbed reject who now has something to say to society. He sacrificed his life for sake of his message.
It is interesting to consider the history of media in relation to sensationalizing murder. This from Wikipedia on Jack the Ripper:
The Ripper murders mark an important watershed in modern British life. Whilst not the first serial killer, Jack the Ripper's case was the first to create a worldwide media frenzy. Reforms to the Stamp Act in 1855 had enabled the publication of inexpensive newspapers with wider circulation. These mushroomed later in the Victorian era to include mass-circulation newspapers as cheap as a halfpenny, along with popular magazines such as the Illustrated Police News, making the Ripper the beneficiary of previously unparalleled publicity. This, combined with the fact that no one was ever convicted of the murders, created a legend that cast a shadow over later serial killers.
Some believe that the killer's nickname was invented by newspapermen to make for a more interesting story that could sell more papers. This became standard media practice with examples such as the Boston Strangler, the Green River Killer, the Axeman of New Orleans, the Beltway Sniper, and the Hillside Strangler, besides the derivative Yorkshire Ripper almost a hundred years later and the unnamed perpetrator of the "Thames Nude Murders" of the 1960s, whom the press dubbed Jack the Stripper....
...To date more than 200 works of non-fiction have been published which deal exclusively with the Jack the Ripper murders, making it one of the most written-about true-crime subjects of the past century. Philip Sugden's The Complete History of Jack the Ripper is widely considered the best general overview of the case. Six periodicals about Jack the Ripper have been introduced since the early 1990s: Ripperana (1992-present), Ripperologist (1994-present, electronic format only since 2005), the Whitechapel Journal (1997–2000), Ripper Notes (1999-present), Ripperoo (2000–2003), and the The Whitechapel Society Journal (2005-present).
The point of this post is not to blame the media for school and mall shootings and suicide bombings. But neither can we be naive. The fact remains that our 21st century ability to proliferate information is an indispensable element in granting meaning and significance to these murders. The media guarantees the preservation of the angst. In other words, the media is immortality. And "media" is no longer a group of elites. "Media" is me and "media" is you.
Imagine that a suicide killing had occurred in a small town or an isolated community in the United States some 200 years ago. News of such a killing would not spread far. The general populace would never know. On recounting the event, the locals would likely grimace, shake their heads, and looking down at the ground say, "What a senseless, senseless murder. So pointless."
We can't say this anymore, though. We know the point. It is to proliferate pain, spread one's message, and preserve one's story. The media provides the content for the meaningless to become meaningful.
So, there arises a new cult of suicide shooters in the United States; a twisted brotherhood of suburban terrorists. It is a counter-cultural movement of troubled youths who sacrifice their lives so that their face can be uploaded to your computer screen and so that their messages can be spread across the cable news channels and preserved on Wikipedia.
I only wonder if perhaps there will arise so many of these suicide shooters that their names will become lost in a myriad of suburban terrorists and their acts will ultimately become banal and uninteresting to the public. For example, there is no national publicity if an inner city child is gunned down in the projects. Mall shootings concern suburbia because it hits too close to home.