There you go humanity, your deranged, postmodern horror film is real. The voyeuristic murder of Alison Parker and Adam Ward in America this week plays like a reality TV show, and thereon lies the danger. It feels like entertainment, doesn’t it?
I think after the initial shock of a crime so unusually exposed, newsrooms around the world were basking in unspoken undertones of glee, for the crime, as horrific and sickening as it is, feels as perfect a development for tabloid media as the front facing camera was for vain adolescents. To a society obsessed with narcissistic voyeurism, where we’re all tangled in the aptly named web, this was a murder for the whole family to enjoy. Photos and videos of our dinner and cats are so banal nowadays, it was only a matter of time before homicide joined the party.
Yet rather than the sensational splattering of the story and it’s disturbing images across news outlets serving some zombified desire on our part to frenzy on a story so in tune with the immediacy and intimacy we demand of our social media, the lively manner of the media in reporting it is simply cut from the same film of factors that sprout the Kardashian clan in equally frothy fashion from the rear page – a clear, digestible narrative and big colourful images.
Picture books for adults.
They will sell copies and lots of them, with very little ‘journalistic’ work to be done. And while capitalism might defend their right to do so under the ‘operating as a business’ cloud, this is where the fourth estate is really hurting us.
Scanning across the newstands one would be mistaken for thinking what they were looking at stills from a first person shooter video game. Allowing us to quite literally see through the eyes of the killer, to gaze upon the hellish terror clasping his victims in their final moments, all while we wait to pay for our groceries, is ethically reprehensible. The Sun even imposed an explosive gunfire graphic in front of the barrel of the gun, as if we needed reminding that guns do in fact fire.
Whatever political assertions that can be fed into the discourse surrounding gun control or mental health treatment, this story is much more fascinating as the perfect paradigm of the reckless way in which the media feeds us. Publication or broadcast of images taken by the killer in his deranged rampage not only quite immorally fulfills his wish to have them seen, but injects an invisible understanding into the void between audience and performer: that if you record similarly compelling images, we as a society, regardless of how morally repulsive the content, the context, the implications for the warping of society’s collective decency, or the impact on the family and friends of the victims, we will air it. At the risk of conjuring up platitudes, this is murder for the digital age, not unlike something you’d see from a Black Mirror episode.
Any justification for broadcasting sections of the murder video under the defence that they are representative of the story and thus important to it are baseless claims; moral integrity and responsible management of the power the media wields over our cultural perspectives should win out every time. Where were such assertions after the Charlie Hebdo attack? The action then, by media outlets worldwide, should have been a coordinated effort to brazenly print, on mass, the cartoons at the centre of the spectacle. That is how statements are made about the type of world we want to live in. Both then and now, media have set the reference at pure self interest; the only difference being then, it was out of fear; now, it’s because of money.
There’s a hashtag being wielded by many news outlets in the wake of this tragedy: #WeStandWithWDBJ. Does showing solidarity really need to include broadcasting chilling images of their final moments? The only thing they should be showing is that they will not do the attention-seeking work of psychopaths on their behalf.
Violent images of war zones, riots or other socio-political crises are examples of material that serves to expose us to the reality of life outside our bubble. They change perspectives and inspire action. Isolated sociopaths on a path to destruction are blips, and sensationalizing their crimes is more than just a missed opportunity to show off the integrity and solidarity of media groups in a refusal to do so, it grants an extra notch of radical social acceptance that works as a detriment to us all. This isn’t some violent movie causing concern with parents. This is real life. This is the pollution of a clout of violence and superficialness that is pulling us further and further into our bubbles of abstract digital comforts and timid social perceptions instead of grounding us in the world where real change and progress occurs. This is crime presented like an outlandish hollywood blockbuster. Lets hope it doesn’t turn into a franchise.