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The Mass Media

The Mass Media

The Mass Media

Editorial

After the shock of a catastrophe, even amid concern for the victims, there is that uneasy feeling: “Could I be next?” Life can end or change irrevocably at a moment, and in the face of a tragedy such as the one that has befallen the Virginia Tech community, it’s important to consider that we have both to share their troubles and consider our own situations.

In many ways, this is difficult to write, and must be to read. We have to wonder what would happen if a gunman were to open fire at UMass Boston. Would professors and classmates be able to read the warning signs in a student on a campus where we don’t spend much time together? Would campus security, such as it is, be able to respond quickly and effectively?

Not so useful are other questions that arose from certain channels in the wake of the shooting, some within a day: in Australia and Germany, they criticized what they see as our gun culture, while at home gun proponents, right wing web pundits more precisely, wondered what would have happened if everyone else at Virginia Tech that day had hand guns. These are legitimate issues, but politicizing tragedies often only serves to keep us bickering, from focusing on more important details and asking better questions, like: “Why was someone who had been institutionalized two years ago able to own guns?,” or “Why did his professors, reading his ultra-violent creative writing work, not investigate into him a little further?,” and most importantly, “How can we secure ourselves, within reason, from similar attacks?”

It’s easy to simplify things when we’re looking for reasons, or for points to cherry pick, but the truth is that sturdy answers about why it happens and how to stop it often aren’t forthcoming. School shooters lash out for a myriad of reasons, maybe because of abuse suffered at other schools at other times. Anyone who remembers high school knows it can be vicious, and there always seem to be kids marked from birth as outcasts. They may bring that baggage with them into their later lives. Or, the people at their present schools just may be treating them badly. We’d submit that it’s the culture of bullying and ostracism, rather than any scarceness or abundance of handguns available to the consumer, that is the bigger issue.

Most striking about the shooters is the hatred for humanity implicit in their acts. They are angry at a world they see as full of bullies and hypocrites. “Your Mercedes wasn’t enough, you brats,” said the Virginia Tech shooter Cho Seung-Hui. “Your golden necklaces weren’t enough, you snobs. Your trust fund wasn’t enough. Your vodka and cognac wasn’t enough. All your debaucheries weren’t enough. Those weren’t enough to fulfill your hedonistic needs. You had everything,” before referencing “martyrs like Eric and Dylan,” that is, Harris and Klebold, the Columbine shooters, who likewise lashed out at the jocks, the preppies, and who were tormented and ostracized by them as well.

The easiest answer, and what seems like the right one, is to say that by being more friendly to each other, by not ostracizing people and by not bullying them, we can bring about a change in the culture that will not develop killers such as Klebold, Harris and Seung-Hui in it. But this takes a lot of work. Until then, we have to pay closer attention to cries for help and warning signs. We also have to be careful in the world.