Politics & Policy

Emotional Vampirism

Tragedy becomes feeding time for the press.

I’m sick over the Virginia Tech story. But I’m sickened of the Virginia Tech “story.”

That is, it’s at moments like this — the “aftermath” stage of some horrible event — when the press, particularly television news networks, are most proud of themselves that I find them the most repellent.

To be sure, it’s difficult to see the line between enough and too much when journalists go wild, “flooding the zone,” competing with each other like starving dogs for the slightest new morsel of information they can then put on a permanent loop on cable TV, until the next fragmentary detail is pried loose by a reporter desperate to be first, for 15 minutes.

Because there isn’t enough new information to fill the infinite void allotted to these stories, the press quickly succumbs to a kind of emotional vampirism, feeding off the grief, fear, and anguish of victims clearly incapable of understanding their own feelings or of finding meaning in events that defy either understanding or meaning.

Just as with the Columbine massacre, the Oklahoma City bombing and countless other slaughters whose names tug at our memories – as well as our guilty consciences because we cannot quite recall the details of those “unforgettable” events – we can be sure the media will continue to milk their role as remorse voluptuaries for as long as conceivably possible.

You see, Americans don’t watch news that much anymore, preferring Oprah, The View, Grey’s Anatomy, and other soap operas fictional or otherwise. So long after the shelf life of the facts has expired and the news is no longer new, the networks will try to keep their swollen ratings by making their “extended coverage” as engorged with mawkish sentimentality as possible before giving way entirely to recriminations, self-congratulation and navel-gazing about how they handled this latest challenge.

Perhaps just as gruesome is the race to assign a politically palatable meaning to the calamity before the clay of first impressions hardens into the granite of conventional wisdom. After all, we must have a controversy over this event; how else to justify the return of the pundits, like an aristocracy in exile, to television studios everywhere?

Most prominently, some of these journalistic first-responders are desperate to seize on the opportunity to make Cho Seung-Hui into a gargoyle of the gun culture. Others see the contesting forces of litigiousness, the shortcomings of the therapeutic society or, just peeking around the corner, the horrible influences of the popular culture and the Internet. Had Cho’s visa been out of order, one can be sure some would have added Cho to the parade of horribles of illegal immigration.

And then, of course, there is religion. Some are desperate to insinuate Cho as a deranged warrior for Christ. But Cho had “Ismail Ax” written in red ink on his arm. Ismail is the Muslim spelling of Ishmael, which has caused others to speculate that Cho was another Johnny Taliban. But then, he spelled the name Ishmael — the common Western spelling — on the return address of the package he sent to NBC.

That package also contained a multimedia suicide note in which Cho both denounced Christianity and put himself in the role of Jesus Christ, even as he struck a mimicking pose possibly lifted from a Korean action movie and carried on like one of the professional wrestlers he so admired.

His execrable writings contain countless allusions to pedophilia and abuse so offensive that even his presumably sophisticatedly desensitized classmates refused to read them. His video testimony contains quasi-Marxist denunciations of materialism.

In short, this deranged young man had a maelstrom of demons swirling about him. But partisans want us to pick one all-explanatory demon.

With the light of hindsight, some say the warning signs should have been spotted. But this assumes that strange and disgruntled people are a rarity and that all of them are candidates to become mass murderers. The reality is almost exactly the opposite. Strange minds and tortured souls are all around us, particularly on college campuses.

Shall we now have the psychological equivalent of the zero-tolerance mania that causes children with aspirin to be carted off by police? Shall we unleash the white coats on every misanthrope and muttering grudge holder?

I confess, I’ve played the game of trying to find meaning in tragedy more than once myself and I probably will again. But not this time. Not with Cho. The only meaning I can find supported by the horrific, heartrending evidence is that once again the mystery of evil has been corroborated, the permanence of tragedy confirmed.

© 2007 Tribune Media Services, Inc.

Most Popular

U.S.

Zoomers and the Constitution

A 2019 study by the Pew Research Center compared generational views on key social and political issues, focusing on the similarities between Millennials and Generation Z. The topics probed include race relations, diversity, climate change, capitalism, socialism, and the role of government. This last item, ... Read More
U.S.

Zoomers and the Constitution

A 2019 study by the Pew Research Center compared generational views on key social and political issues, focusing on the similarities between Millennials and Generation Z. The topics probed include race relations, diversity, climate change, capitalism, socialism, and the role of government. This last item, ... Read More
Media

How American Journalism Died

In 2017, the liberal Shorenstein Center on Media, Politics, and Public Policy at Harvard University found that 93 percent of CNN’s coverage of the Trump administration was negative. The center found similarly negative Trump coverage at other major news outlets. The election year 2020 has only accelerated ... Read More
Media

How American Journalism Died

In 2017, the liberal Shorenstein Center on Media, Politics, and Public Policy at Harvard University found that 93 percent of CNN’s coverage of the Trump administration was negative. The center found similarly negative Trump coverage at other major news outlets. The election year 2020 has only accelerated ... Read More
Elections

Is the Biden Campaign Struggling?

On the menu today: a long, long list of Democrats warning that the Biden campaign may not be as strong as it looks in key states and among key demographics; another former White House staffer comes out and denounces the president, offering a hard lesson about how personnel is policy; and a long look at the ... Read More
Elections

Is the Biden Campaign Struggling?

On the menu today: a long, long list of Democrats warning that the Biden campaign may not be as strong as it looks in key states and among key demographics; another former White House staffer comes out and denounces the president, offering a hard lesson about how personnel is policy; and a long look at the ... Read More

The Last Days of Robin Williams

After Robin Williams hanged himself in 2014, the media speculated that financial troubles or depression related to drug or alcohol use might have been the cause. Without discussing those topics, Williams’s widow, Susan Schneider Williams, is eager to set the record straight and does so in Robin’s Wish, a ... Read More

The Last Days of Robin Williams

After Robin Williams hanged himself in 2014, the media speculated that financial troubles or depression related to drug or alcohol use might have been the cause. Without discussing those topics, Williams’s widow, Susan Schneider Williams, is eager to set the record straight and does so in Robin’s Wish, a ... Read More
Politics & Policy

Enough of ‘Orange Man Bad’

The Trump era has brought its own unique vocabulary: Never Trump, anti-anti-Trump, Deep State, QAnon, “The Resistance,” Podbros, Trump Derangement Syndrome, and of course, MAGA, to name just a few. But by far the most useless phrase to emerge over the last few years is “Orange Man Bad.” If you follow ... Read More
Politics & Policy

Enough of ‘Orange Man Bad’

The Trump era has brought its own unique vocabulary: Never Trump, anti-anti-Trump, Deep State, QAnon, “The Resistance,” Podbros, Trump Derangement Syndrome, and of course, MAGA, to name just a few. But by far the most useless phrase to emerge over the last few years is “Orange Man Bad.” If you follow ... Read More