A LOVE SUPREME

I am now blogging at a new blog: erdman31.com

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Friday, December 07, 2007

Richard Hawkins and Media Immortality

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.

33 comments:

ktismatics said...

Never mind your post, Mr. Danger -- have you nothing to say about my having solved the riddle of total depravity and original sin on my blog? You're the only Calvinist within 3,000 miles of Ktismatics -- are you going to tell me that the whole depravity thing is passe in these postmodern times?

ktismatics said...

Sitemeter tells me someone from Tippecanoe just visited my blog...

ktismatics said...

There's some evidence that, for a very small percentage of depressed people, taking antidepressants provokes a suicide attempt or violent outburst. If you believe that you're life really does suck, antidepressants might give you the focus and energy you need to pull the trigger.

I think it's a categorical error to lump in political suicide bombers with people who just blow their tops. You'd be hard-pressed to find anyone who regarded this kid in Omaha as justified in doing what he did, whereas large percentages of people in Palestine and Iraq believe suicide bombing is justified. It's not just craziness, not even religious craziness -- it's widely regarded as an act of political-military heroism.

Jonathan Erdman said...

Here is the link to the (highly recommended) Original Sin post mentioned above:
Original Sin Reinterpreted

Jonathan Erdman said...

Ktismatics:
I think it's a categorical error to lump in political suicide bombers with people who just blow their tops. You'd be hard-pressed to find anyone who regarded this kid in Omaha as justified in doing what he did, whereas large percentages of people in Palestine and Iraq believe suicide bombing is justified. It's not just craziness, not even religious craziness -- it's widely regarded as an act of political-military heroism.

Excellent observation. But let me ask this: Are you suggesting that the difference is merely one of popularity? The suicide bombers are popular in their context, whereas the suburbia rejects are "unjustified" lunatics. You seem to be suggesting that the fact that there are large numbers who support the suicide bombers grants justification to their acts.

Is there really such a difference? In both cases, the suicides appear to be a cry from those who perceive themselves to be oppressed.

chris van allsburg said...

I've just become very sad at this, and am only expecting it to continue. The evil in this world is overwhelming at times. The same evil resides within me. Thankfully, God has promised to eradicate the evil in me through the promise of the gospel. So, I really need to lead a devotional life. I see this now more than ever.

I think Jon has a point, though. These killers have no hope, no meaning, nothing to live for. I think he's got a point that media makes it more attractive to take others out with the suicide. Otherwise, is this kid kills himself, it's "just another loser" gone down the drain. Instead, he wreaks havoc and becomes spread out into the socio-spere though various mediums.

It IS still pointless though, because he's dead and cannot "enjoy" his fame. Sin is irrational, I think.

I just get very sad about this. I was even thinking, a few days before this: "Let's see...V-Tech was about six months ago, and prior to that was the mall shooting in Utah, and just prior was the Amish massacre. We are due for another mass murder."

I was right.

samlcarr said...

I doubt that J the R really wondered whether he would become famous. Certainly once he did, other serial killers take the media angle quite for granted and even use the media sometimes to give out messages or whatever but with real psychosis I doubt that the fame or exposure really is what motivates them to kill.

In Cho's case and with Robert Hawkins - i guess your Richard in the title is a pun? - the fame angle may play a larger role and may have a motivational component in which case this is a new class of killing spree altogether and may be qualitatively different from the 'nutter who lost it' that we are more familiar with.

Jonathan Erdman said...

Sam:
I doubt that J the R really wondered whether he would become famous.

There is a quote circulating that supposedly Jack the Ripper said that he would usher in the 20th century. If true, then this would presume some desire on J the R's part for public notice and historical impact/relevance.

In Cho's case and with Robert Hawkins - i guess your Richard in the title is a pun? - the fame angle may play a larger role and may have a motivational component in which case this is a new class of killing spree altogether and may be qualitatively different from the 'nutter who lost it' that we are more familiar with.

Yea, that's what I think. And if this is so, then I think we have another link between these suburbia suicide shooters and Islamic suicide bombers: They both use the media as much as they possibly can to promote their message/story. It is quite fascinating to me, because a lot of what is going on would not be possible without postmodern forms of communication.

Jonathan Erdman said...

Chris:
I just get very sad about this. I was even thinking, a few days before this: "Let's see...V-Tech was about six months ago, and prior to that was the mall shooting in Utah, and just prior was the Amish massacre. We are due for another mass murder."

I was right.


Kind of prophetic. Kind of scary. But we all have the same kinds of feelings: where is it going to happen next. It can truly happen anywhere. We had a suburbia shooting here in Warsaw with a family that I know very well. It wasn't of the mall/school shooting variety - it was a domestic issue. However, I have no doubt any longer that these things can hit close to home. And, yes, you are right. It is very sad. Sad to see orphans and loved ones grieve what appears to be a meaningless loss.

Daniel said...

Jon, the concept of "virtual immortality" is certainly thought provoking. The mind seems incapable of developing social responses at pace with technological developments.

A new circle of Hell?

Ethics, community, family, all disintegrate in the electronic buzz. Man and machine the denominator.

How long this version of immortality: anyone got 15 minutes?

The trash heap of yesterdays news, or until the next story comes along (Chris's cycle). A burning fire in Alexandria's rubbish dump when the oil runs out, the wheel stops turning, and the computer screen flickers and dies.

samlcarr said...

Jon, I think there's a difference in that the suicide bomber is at war and any war's first frontier is always the hype and PR on both sides. Suicide bombing is terrible but the fear of suicide bombing is worse.

Your own 'war on terror' is the result of just this fear. If the twin towers had collapsed on their own, killing 3,000 it would have been a terrible disaster and the backlash of anger would have been against the builders and the city that certified the building as safe and after a lot of grief that would have been that.

America with its media overreaction (and a gleefully dumb Chenney-Bush at the helm) in a real sense played into the hands of Osama's gang and even that famous terrorist could hardly have hoped for better than to suck the US singlehandedly into such a disastrous enterprise - and all because your own media blew it up!
Contrast the response of Spain to a similar tragedy...

Daniel said...

(From the YWAM press release after yesterday's shooting.)

Peter Warren, the Director of Youth with a Mission Denver says they had just finished a Christmas banquet when the suspect arrived and asked a 22-year-old woman from Minnesota if he could be housed for the evening. When she told him they could not house him, that's when, Warren says, the suspect opened fired with an automatic handgun, hitting four people. Police say they do not know whether the shooting was random or if there was a motive.

Warren says, "The young man – I don't know who he is; I don't think [the victims] knew him – but he must be going through a lot personally in his own life to do something like this. Our belief is that only God is the judge and our place is to forgive and that's a difficult thing to do, but really, I think it's the right thing to do," said Warren.

There are about 80 people living on the Arvada campus and they have been transported to the group's mountain campus near Golden, Colorado where they will stay while the murder investigation is processed at their residence. Warren says they are trying to deal with this situation as best as they can.

"There's no blueprint for this," said Warren. "You know, we're just going to be honest, we're going to pray with one another and cry with one another. These kids were like our kids, you know. It's just such a tragedy, but who knows what's going on in this young man's life."

YWAM International Chairman Lynn Green released this statement: "We feel a deep sense of loss today and we grieve with the families and those who were very close friends of the victims. Our surviving students and staff are being well cared for and we have total confidence in those who are responsible for the training program in Arvada to care for those who have been subjected to this assault.

"Those who lost their lives had dedicated themselves to serve and we feel the sorrow of their absence. Yet we take comfort from the assurance of everlasting life for those who follow Christ in loving service to others.

"It is a great tragedy that our culture seems to produce so many deeply troubled people who express their frustration in violence. We forgive the assailant and we rededicate ourselves to serving young people in the hope that we might bring healing to other needy youth."


YWAM's response to the horrible attack on their staff is commendable and challenging. From extensive personal experience with the organization - my wife, father, and sister have all been missionaries with YWAM - I can vouch for the excellence of their leadership and organizational structure valuing one-on-one ministry and sincere love for God and one another.

Emily said...

Warren said, "...Our belief is that only God is the judge and our place is to forgive and that's a difficult thing to do, but really, I think it's the right thing to do," said Warren.

I think the general attitude of forgiveness that Warren conveyed is good. But we need to remember that individuals forgive, while the government very much has the right to judge (and should). I assume Warren meant this.

Then onto forgiving a killer or any other offender...

If someone commits a sin that affects me, I shouldn't just automatically say to the person, "I forgive you." We don't grant relational forgiveness to someone until the person has come to ask for forgiveness. (It might be appropriate to go the offender expressing how you were hurt and ask for an apology.) Otherwise, we are sugarcoating the offense and soothing the guilt the offender should rightly feel for the action.

We should, however, immediately forgive the offender by going to God and releasing the offense to Him. This is acknowledging that someone did something bad against us or a loved one (ultimately God) but saying that we give up any right we thought we might have had to get even or stew over it. We're saying it's in God's hands.

jps said...

hmmm...seems the old Homeric ideal of fame has been twisted into a new idea by our society...

By the way, when did media become singular?

James

samlcarr said...

mea culpa. Your medium blew it up.

Jonathan Erdman said...

Emily:
If someone commits a sin that affects me, I shouldn't just automatically say to the person, "I forgive you." We don't grant relational forgiveness to someone until the person has come to ask for forgiveness. (It might be appropriate to go the offender expressing how you were hurt and ask for an apology.) Otherwise, we are sugarcoating the offense and soothing the guilt the offender should rightly feel for the action.

Emily,
Does God forgive humankind their sins if they do not ask for it?

Jonathan Erdman said...

JPS:
hmmm...seems the old Homeric ideal of fame has been twisted into a new idea by our society...

By the way, when did media become singular?


JPS,

I think for this context I would use the singular. This is not to imply that the media all express the same perspective, but they all have the commonality of spreading information and news at the speed of light and creating instant hype regarding any item of general interest.

As Daniel says, it is a here-today-gone-tomorrow kind of a media experience. It is a blitz of images and facts and news and information that is replaced moments later by a new story. We have a certain Attention Deficit Disorder here.

Contra Sam, I don't know that I see this as an entirely negative thing. It certainly may have sounded that way from my post, but really I just think that we have to now deal with the way that technology has changed the way we live, think, and feel. This has certainly had some negative results, however, as you pointed out, Sam. And it will probably continue to have negative results as we learn to live in a new era of human civilization, clumsily trying to understand the meaning of our virtual lives.

One example: how do we sustain real reflection on issues when each new news story is perpetually being recycled into a new one? Is that where discussion groups and blogs come it--a place for sustained reflection?

samlcarr said...

"I don't know that I see this as an entirely negative thing"
It doesn't have to be a negative thing. there should be a sense that the public are mulling over what the media reports without necessarily swallowing it hook line and sinker.

The media likes to portray itself as having the scoop, the inside info, they are embedded, they have access to 'the experts' and they don't just report news but also 'help us' to analyse both the events and their implications. It is often taken too much for granted that the public will believe what they are told and will believe also how they should believe.

It's the knee jerk reaction that the Neocon gang have relied too heavily on and that has now resulted in greater introspection as well as a healthy skepticism about spin as well as the more obviously slanted analysis.

One would also hope that those who have also been exposed to the deconstructive power of the gospel would perhaps also be able to provide a slightly differrant analysis...

Daniel said...

Jon, your idea of blogging as a space for reflection is most interesting. What seems to frustrate this is that the blogging medium still represents itself in "homologous open time" (Benedict Andersen) just like a daily newspaper. What is still of prime importance is that we as the blogging community remain on the same page, moving along with the calendar in our imagined community.

The chronological reel of discussion after discussion leads to the same fatigue we experience with the older media, only now with a slightly different rhythm and longer cycle. Still it remains a pause for reflection if you will, relative to the fast pace of the daily news.

If I post in one of last week's blogs however, I am unlikely to generate much reflection.

Emily said:

If someone commits a sin that affects me, I shouldn't just automatically say to the person, "I forgive you." We don't grant relational forgiveness to someone until the person has come to ask for forgiveness. (It might be appropriate to go the offender expressing how you were hurt and ask for an apology.) Otherwise, we are sugarcoating the offense and soothing the guilt the offender should rightly feel for the action.

We should, however, immediately forgive the offender by going to God and releasing the offense to Him. This is acknowledging that someone did something bad against us or a loved one (ultimately God) but saying that we give up any right we thought we might have had to get even or stew over it. We're saying it's in God's hands.


What I find troubling is the discourse that we need to "forgive ourselves", an idea gaining in popularity in the midst of personal tragedy, rendering Christ's atoning death on the cross unnecessary.

To refer the sadness of the current examples, the parents of the destructive teen will be counselled to "forgive" themselves for allowing him access to the rifle. The parents will be offered a kind of absolution in this way. But only God can forgive us and release us from guilt when we ask him too do so through the blood of Jesus. Any other method is a cover up, and brings no healing.

The world seems in danger of swallowing a self-forgiveness heresy, so that when things go wrong and we make mistakes instead of turning to God in prayer we make a fraudulent appeal to the god of ourselves. It seems like the discourse around USA war in Iraq is heading this way, not to mention the mistakes we are grappling with here in South Africa and every nation of the world for that matter.

Jonathan Erdman said...

Sam:
The media likes to portray itself as having the scoop, the inside info, they are embedded, they have access to 'the experts' and they don't just report news but also 'help us' to analyse both the events and their implications.

"Fox News. Fair and Balanced. We report, you decide."

Emily said...

Jon: Does God forgive humankind their sins if they do not ask for it?

God sent His Son (fully God and fully human - so the only perfect sacrifice) to die on the cross for the sins of the world. He did die for every single sin that ever was and ever will be committed by anyone. He did this, He loved us, before we made any kind of a move toward Him.

BUT for the blood Christ shed on the cross to cover me, to cover all the sins I have committed up until now, the blood payment must be applied to my account. This can't happen until we accept Christ as the only Way, our only personal Savior from the hell, torture and spiritual death we deserve. So in effect, we do have to ask for God's forgiveness.

After my initial acceptance of Christ, every time I commit a new sin, the blood is automatically applied to that sin. But I still need to make things right relationally with God and whoever the sin affected.


Dan, good point that we can't/shouldn't forgive ourselves. I completely agree.

Jonathan Erdman said...

Daniel:
What I find troubling is the discourse that we need to "forgive ourselves", an idea gaining in popularity in the midst of personal tragedy, rendering Christ's atoning death on the cross unnecessary.

I'm not sure Emily was meaning to endorse popular notions of forgiveness, but I'll let her weigh in with her thoughts on this.

I was recently watching the film, Garden State. In it the lead character has been medicated ever since he was a kid because he pushed his mother, who subsequently fell onto/into an open and active dishwasher that had a defective latch and had fallen open. His mother was paralyzed. Anyway, the lead character is talking to his father (a shrink who had him put on meds so that he couldn't "act out" again) who suggests that the kid (26 yr.) needs to forgive himself. The kid responds by saying, "I think they made a shitty latch." He then says that he is there with his father not to forgive himself but to forgive his father for medicating him and leaving him numb and without feeling all these years.

It is interesting that the "forgive yourself" tag line is becoming something of a cliche such that even a cliche movie like Garden State can take a crack at it.

In philosophy the idea of forgiveness has been discussed a good deal over in France and then it spills over a bit here in the States. On a popular level in America, though, much of the discussion remains on a vague level where we kind of repeat the cliches that come down to us from daytime television and self-help gurus.

Daniel said...

Jon, when it comes to "deconstructing a digital demographic"... well, it just occurred to me that the people doing the blogging are by and large not the people doing the newsmaking.

The average age of the newsmaker is younger than the average age of the blogger.

Is there a probable future where the ancient codes for social roles of different generations and respect for elders is resurrected, where the elderly blog (discuss events in the comfort of their homes) while the young and foolhardy do the risky business of living?

chris van allsburg said...

Emily has a point. We must be willing to forgive, but if someone doesn't ask for forgiveness, we do not forgive them. Exception: a minor offence that is to be overlooked, per Proverbs. "If your brother sins against you, go to him. If he repents, you have won your brother over." If not, well...he's unforgiven.

And yes, Jon, God only forgives those who ask. Repentance and faith are both necessary for the forgiveness of sins.

samlcarr said...

Some folks haven't been reading paul very closely: "while we were yet sinners"

Melody said...

Some folks haven't been reading paul very closely: "while we were yet sinners"

Yeah sure - He made it possible to forgive us - but it isn't like that wiped the slate clean for everyone because we have grace through faith...it's a gift from God to those who believe...until we accept it we're dead in trespasses and sin, yes?

ktismatics said...

Chris, I used to be involved in YWAM too, long long ago, in Morocco, when I think they didn't have very many outposts at all. And I live just down the road from Arvada, where I had no idea YWAM had a training center there.

This morning I read about 50 people getting blown up in Algeria, the next country over from Morocco, probably caused by al-Qaida affiliates. In an Algerian election 15 years ago, Muslim fundamentalists were poised to win the presidency but the military imposed martial law to keep the present government in power. A protracted civil war ensued, in which over 100 thousand people have died. Algeria has a lot of oil which it sells to Europe, and the military-backed government called in the EU to help quell guerrilla-led uprisings in parts of Algeria. There have been over the years several terrorist attacks in France, which is the former colonial ruler of Algeria.

Algeria won independence in a long war during the 50s, which also involved a lot of guerrilla tactics and terrorism and left a lot of residual resentment among the French and other Europeans. But millions of Algerians have emigrated to France looking for better jobs. So there's ongoing tension between France and Algeria, and significant mistrust between the "French French" and the "bronze French" -- the North African minority.

So... when we read about an al Qaida affiliate claiming responsibility for today's bombing in Algeria, do we think about the spread of Qaida throughout the "Middle East" -- even though Algeria is just about exactly as far west as Paris -- and how important it is for America to chase them down wherever they go? Do we think about forgiving Qaida for this latest attack? Forgiving the Algerian military for preventing the popularly-elected Muslim fundamentalists from taking control of the government? Forgiving France for trying to prevent Algeria's independence?

Andy said...

One small correction: Psychology can't rely on medication as treatment. That's psychiatry. Psychologists can't prescribe anything.

ktismatics said...

"Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki has condemned the car bomb attacks in Algeria, which left more than 67 people dead. In a message of condolence to his Algerian counterpart Mourad Medelci, Mottaki denounced the terrorist act which claimed the lives of scores of innocent civilians.

"Two blasts one near the Algiers Supreme Court and another in a nearby residential area on Tuesday killed at least 67 people, and wounded many others. Ten United Nations' employees were among the dead. There have been a number of bomb attacks in the country this year claimed by al-Qaeda."

ktismatics said...

"In Cho's case and with Robert Hawkins - i guess your Richard in the title is a pun?"

You never responded to Sam's question, Mr. Danger. The shooter's name is Robert Hawkins, as you note in your post, but you call him Richard in the title. For Sam and for me this misnomer conjures an association with Richard Dawkins, the atheistic scientist and media celebrity. Were you consciously trying to engineer this association in your readers' minds?

Jonathan Erdman said...

Wow.

I didn't catch on to that until just now!

Ktismatics and Sam: You are absolutely right.

As I recall, I wrote the post a few days back and posted it the day or so after I wrote it. I cleaned it up and posted. But the title was something I slapped on rather quickly, as I remember. So, the error in the first name is either completely random or occurred at a subconscious level.

I don't think that I have any subconscious resentment toward Richard Dawkins, but I can understand how one would think that from looking at the post. There is only a one letter difference between the two names. I don't typically argue on the same terms as Dawkins, i.e. evidential/evolution/etc. He and those who respond to him are "playing a different game" than I usually play. And, as a general rule, I root against establishment Xianity.

But this was slopping posting. I apologize.

Should I leave it? Or change it?

I tend to think that I should leave it, since it has been duly noted by Sam and yourself. It will be a reminder for me to pay more attention.

Sorry, Sam, that I did not pick up your initial comment about Richard Hawkins being a pun. That one blew past me!

Thanks for following up with that, K.

ktismatics said...

I agree with your judgment: leave it, it adds another flavor to the stew.

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