Beyond the loss of human life, the thing that grieves me most about the Virginia Tech massacre is what it has revealed about our culture. Peggy Noonan’s description of how people are responding sadly sums up my own reaction:
I felt people were stricken because they weren’t stricken. When Columbine happened, it was weird and terrible, and now there have been some incidents since, and now it’s not weird anymore. And that is what’s so terrible. It’s the difference between “That doesn’t happen!” and “That happens.”
She’s right. We all regard the massacre to be an outrage and a tragedy of epic proportions. And we all have gotten somewhat accustomed to such things happening in our culture. Isn’t this cultural malaise a catastrophe in itself?
Perhaps this hardening of our collective consciousness was the primary impetus for the callous and manipulative media coverage that we have been seeing this week. Noonan’s words are apt on this score also:
The last testament Cho sent to NBC seemed more clear evidence of mental illness–posing with his pistols, big tough gangsta gonna take you out. What is it evidence of when NBC News, a great pillar of the mainstream media, runs the videos and pictures on the nightly news? Brian Williams introduced the Cho collection as “what can only be described as a multi-media manifesto.” But it can be described in other ways. “The self-serving meanderings of a crazy, self-indulgent narcissist” is one. But if you called it that, you couldn’t lead with it. You couldn’t rationalize the decision.
The media exploitation for the sake of ratings has been sickening. I can’t see any redemptive value in NBC’s decision to air these images. How can we regard it as anything less than a gratuitous exploitation of a heinous crime?
The most common-sensical thing I heard said came Thursday morning, in a hospital interview with a student who’d been shot and was recovering. Garrett Evans said of the man who’d shot him, “An evil spirit was going through that boy, I could feel it.” It was one of the few things I heard the past few days that sounded completely true. Whatever else Cho was, he was also a walking infestation of evil. Too bad nobody stopped him. Too bad nobody moved.
I saw the same interview. I couldn’t agree more.