There is a real danger that the horrors of the massacre at SandyHook elementary school Newtown will fade into America's collective memory as the news media switches focus to more traffic generating stories. There is still significant coverage of the tragedy, but as we have seen over the Christmas and New Year break, political theatrics over the fiscal cliff has done much to take the attention away from what happened at Newtown. It's hard to say whether the media is genuinely concerned about the story, or is simply following the numbers. Looking at the faces of some of the reporters sent to Newtown and the hosts of most major news show though, there is a palpable sense of real emotion and concern. I don't think I've ever seen the media so self reflective in America since first coming here in 1998. 9/11 was certainly comparable, but as Chez Pazienza wrote on the Banter last week, there is something completely different about this:
I covered 9/11 from the ground in New York City, and while it was an overwhelming, gut-wrenching and often heartbreaking experience, I’m not sure it ever had the visceral, emotionally shattering impact on me that this shooting has. It has to do with the fact that at least I could make 9/11 make sense, as strange as that sounds; I knew why we were attacked and grasped the twisted logic in the minds of the murderers, killers from far away who’d come from outside to our shores to exact a terrifying but ultimately misguided revenge on innocent people. It was so horrific as an act of war that it was almost surreal, and in the end I, like everyone else, knew who was to blame — and there was unity in our shared defiance and hope in our spirit to overcome.
This is different, though. This is something that can’t be explained. That can’t be rationalized. That can’t even be temporarily salved with gallows humor or buried under distraction. That’s because this is us — this cuts to the soul of who we are. This challenges the notion that we’re a decent people, that the miracle of goodness survives in us as a country. No one declared war on us this time because this time we’re at war with ourselves. We allowed ourselves to become this thing. But now we know that it can’t continue. We can’t go on this way.
The media has a duty to continue covering this topic because it has the power to shift culture in America - an absolute necessity if the country wants to put a stop to the insane massacres that are happening with a frightening frequency. And let us not be mistaken about this. This is a cultural war where fear, hatred and extremism must be beaten by decency, compassion and rationality.
The more coverage the media gives to the massacre in Newtown, the better. The more we see photos of the dead children, footage of the grieving parents, the President in tears, the more we will be forced to confront the brutal nature of what America has become. While Americans are often prone to wallowing in grief over issues that have little to do with their own lives (the death of Michael Jackson was a particularly nauseating example of this), there can't be enough tears to shed over the 20 small children executed while they were at school. The astonishingly violent end to those children's lives is the culmination of a culture gone terribly, terribly wrong - and those children could be anyone's children - a fact the country has now been forced to acknowledge.
There are many contributing factors behind the emergence of killers like Adam Lanza. Poverty, social alienation, casual violence in the media - the list is long and the solutions complicated. But there are some immediate problems that can be addressed at speed, and those solutions must begin with a shift in collective thinking. As former gun advocate Joe Scarborough said in a 10 minute monologue his show on MSNBC, "Nothing can ever be the same again". There are signs that a shift is happening right now, and those involved in gun production are being forced to change. As Mark Pitzke reports in Speigel:
Hundreds of thousands of Americans have signed online petitions against weapons. Retail store chains are clearing their shelves of guns. Share prices of weapons makers are collapsing. Private investment firm Cerberus Capital wants to remove itself from the entire weapons business, although this is unlikely to have to do with any suddenly discovered morals.
Washington is set to get serious about gun control, with a proposed ban on assault rifles bill set to be introduced on the first day of congress.
However, much more must be done in the coming months to force real change in America. There are several dangerous cultural strains that are having a disproportionate effect on people's lives in this country, and they must be confronted and beaten back if real progress is to be made.
There are three particularly dangerous strains that are actively contributing to the 87 people killed every day by guns, and all three can be directly confronted with mass, coordinated action:
1. The nihilistic and massively profitable gun culture that inspires millions to develop an almost sexual fetish for high powered deadly weapons.
2. The libertarian mythology that has convinced Americans that there is no such thing as society, and that government is incapable of competently organizing the country to make it better.
3. Fringe groups and cults that thrive on fear and hate.
In all three instances, going after the money supply can, and will do major damage to their ability to attract followers and believers. Corporations make, sell and advertise guns used to kill people in mass killings. TV stations, magazines and stores must be shamed into not buying or selling these 'products' any more. Advertisers who use gun wielding girls in bikinis, or any attempt to sexualize guns must be black listed and boycotted. The advertisers must be named and shamed, and forced through mass public action to stop associating killing tools with sex.
Libertarians and 2nd Amendement militants are incredibly well funded and have managed to gain prominence in the media. The promotion of their 'self interest society' has instilled a fear driven notion of the country Americans live in - one where everyone is out for themselves and must ignore the plight of others and take measures to defend their homes from leechers and criminals. Libertarians like Megan McArdle have gone to extraordinary lengths to argue that the government is incapable of curbing gun related homicides when there is clear evidence that it can do an awful lot (just look at what Australia did after a horrific gun massacre in 1996). The media can do much to dispel libertarian mythology, and must continually call pundits out for their intellectual dishonesty.
Hate groups can also be attacked and destroyed. With the internet, this is becoming much easier to do. The hacker group 'Anonymous' has recently gone to war with the Westboro Baptist Church after it proclaimed they would be picketing the funerals of the dead children from Newtown. The same tactics can be used to go after fringe white militia groups and separatists preaching violence and promoting gun culture.
There are obviously more long term solutions to this cultural problem - mental health care reform and meaningful economic reforms to target inequality being two major issues to tackle. But for now, anyone responsible for producing high powered weapons and selling them to average Americans, anyone promoting a 'do nothing' government and anyone preaching hatred must be attacked quickly and efficiently with all legal means at their disposal.
America is at the beginning of a new cultural war with the lives of its children at stake. And the good guys must win because the stakes are so very high.