Wednesday morning, a former employee of a Virginia TV news station waited until two of his former colleagues were live on air, then filmed himself raising a gun and shooting them both dead. He uploaded the videos to Twitter before committing suicide. It is the first mass shooting since [scroll back in your social media timelines to a week ago, assuming you have to go that far].
The utterly thinkable has happened again, and so soon that you probably do not have any novel means of examining either your exhaustion or despair, presuming you’re capable of still feeling either. More likely, you’ve been reduced — by the relentless frequency of a politically tolerated and protected form of American death — to the sort of indifference every parent experiences when hearing, “Hey, mom! Watch this!” before her child does his umpteenth cannonball off the diving board. Nod, go back to looking at your smartphone. Just replace the splashes with gunshots.
But since we’re all live-curating existence now, everyone from average citizens to corporate newsrooms has to say something. National events have given, and now you must take — a hot take, pity take, concern-troll take, just take it already. What does it say about your brand presence within the metadialogue if you let the killer have the last vlog?
With that in mind, here are some options you might consider.
1. “Don’t politicize this!”
Always a good take, and it involves ethical analysis as weighty as Galileo measuring the fall of a feather compared to a feather. I don’t mean you shouldn’t politicize this tragedy, of course – far from it. You should just shout that at everyone else. The net effect of stating that someone else should not politicize an event is declaring that their political opinion about it is unwelcome, crass, predatory or invalid. You can shame them for capitalizing on something terrible and get away with silencing someone else’s opinion without offering one yourself and thus implicitly state that your unspoken view is the only reasonable response. Don’t worry about seeming ethically inconsistent on this. Your refusal to countenance political calls for disarming Americans will work just as well even if you’ve spent the last month screaming about the sanctity of human life and calling for the end of federally funded abortions by a group that doesn’t perform abortions with federal funds, all because you saw some edited videotapes created by Dr. Nick Riviera’s Fetus Defense Hut. Human life is serious business, especially if someone you agree with has FinalCut Pro. If someone you disagree with has a Vine, we must wait the appropriate amount of time until most fellow Americans are no longer thinking about this.
2. Blame black people.
This is a great move, because nobody will think this statement is racist when you’ve already made it clear during every other shooting that shootings are never about race. But you may want to tease this take out a little, develop it, really come at it from all sorts of angles, because the historically extremely ethical Breitbart.com already ran with this:
Yes, the shooter allegedly faxed a “manifesto” about avenging those slain in the Charleston massacre, but he also blamed bullying, homophobia and sexual harassment. And surely all those white shooters who were troubled, lone gunman, separatists or disgruntled tell us that no one actor is representative of his race or the motives of the same. No matter, if you happen to be conservative, focusing on the shooter’s race takes care of all your problems for you, because the problem is now a black person, just like all the other problems. Did someone — whether mentally ill, with a prior conviction, or a sane, upstanding citizen fully permitted through every legal process — use a device for its intended purpose of hurling lethal force into an organism? Yeah, sure, but he was black. Bing, bang, boom, we’re done here. Just to be safe, throw up some I’m not racist! chaff about Chicago and black-on-black shooting deaths — because then that also makes black people other black people’s problem — and close with head-shaking at how this kind of militancy is all too common and undermines the message of black activists you would be willing to sit down with, like Martin Luther King, Jr.
3. Maybe question how much to air images of the killer.
There is a giant gulf between allowing events to fall down the memory hole and going balls to the wall broadcasting them for weeks until they become the unofficial incidental music of everyone’s existence. And while the jury’s still out on whether repeated images of tragedies and killers romanticize them and encourage copycatting, it’s questionable what value anyone got from two weeks of turning on CNN after the Charleston massacre and seeing Dylann Roof’s bowl-cut teen-sneering, like Peter Tork was raised with extra chromosomes and copies of The Turner Diaries. Sure, mock CNN’s coverage of the disappearing plane all you like, but at least leading with that for every hour for half of 2014 wasn’t going to inspire someone to David Copperfield an airliner or cause a frisky Airbus to vanish as a prank, just because Don Lemon was wondering if Malaysia Flight #24/7 might have been “swallowed” by a black hole. Maybe we all have a unique vision of where this point lies, but there’s a difference between honoring a historical record and trying to get someone to stop for 30 seconds to watch your ominous black-and-white photos and BREAKING: SHOOTING chyrons on their way to baggage claim. If you’re Fox News, ignore #3 and return to #2.
4. Question what refusing to make the shooting footage available says.
It needn’t run on every broadcast or even any. Anchors can note that it is available at the network’s website or YouTube channel, and viewers and readers can decide for themselves. Because one effect of shootings — in homes, in movie theaters, in schools, in shops and on military bases — is the sense that they always happen someplace else. Sometimes it’s as if they didn’t happen at all; our lives resume their normalcy mere seconds after the ever-diminishing moments of shock at another tragedy subsides. There are always screaming citizens in the aftermath; maybe someone finds a still image taken by a security camera, or a grainy loop of the same, without audio. Often the images are in black-and-white, rendering the victims of carnage in them as distant as a doughboy in the First World War. But the effect is the same. This was somewhere else, it wasn’t fully real. Yes, they had families and friends, but they aren’t fully real people. And if you’re right-wing media trading in point #2, that goes double.
But Alison Parker and Adam Ward died on TV, in full color, with full audio, and you can see the full scope of their death with as little mediation as possible. You can see that there was no good guy with a gun there. There wasn’t a schoolteacher or another person on campus or a sweating maniac in a Minutemen shirt holding an AR-15 scanning the horizons for ISIS and spying this tragedy in time. Wayne LaPierre didn’t sprint out of his limousine at the last second to throw his center mass between Parker and the shooter. Instead, the killer raised his gun, waiting to be noticed, for shock at the power he was capable of and about to unleash — waiting to be seen unstoppably doing what he wanted done. Notice didn’t come, and he shot anyway.
No one should be forced to see this, and it shouldn’t lead every hour of the day, but it should be there, and acknowledged. Because it is real, and Parker and Ward were, too, realer than the scores of thousands already killed and forgotten since Sandy Hook. They were any two people who could have had a conversation outside, looking at anything, absorbed in communicating with others and each feeling the right to which we all are entitled — to work or socialize without being obliged to always assess our risk at anywhere from five to 500 yards. They were as real and vulnerable in their utter normalcy as you or I are, and the sight and sound of them dying is the terminal convergence of the policies that we endorse and allow to endure in this country. This is how we live now, and this is how we die now. If we are unable to witness what we permit either through our philosophy or our indifference or our leaders’ indolence, then it is no longer something we should claim to defend.