A Culture Of Fame And School Shootings: The Copycats

A student mourns the loss of her friend during a community vigil at Pine Trails Park, Thursday, Feb. 15, 2018, in Parkland, Fla., for the victims of the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School. Nikolas Cruz, a former student, was charged with 17 counts of premeditated murder on Thursday. (AP Photo/Brynn Anderson)

There’s a biblical proverb that capitalists debate all the time: “The love of money is the root of all evil.”

People use the expression to decry wealth and smear people who have amassed it, fairly or not. But the expression isn’t really about money. The important word is “love”. The focus on wealth, the intractable lust for it that causes people to behave reprehensibly, is the problem. Not the object of their desire.

And I think — bear with me — this applies to school shootings in a way. Because while culturally we’ve created a generation of kids who believe every emotion that isn’t approaching happiness and satisfaction is a sign of mental illness (but that’s another post for another time), we’ve also created a culture of fame in this country that can be overwhelming. People become famous on social media for almost literally doing nothing. It’s bizarre.

But, like money, it’s not the fame that’s the problem. It’s the need for it. And it’s a part — not the entirety, because there’s a lot to address in the problem of young men who cannot cope and grab guns to alleviate their confusion — of the larger problem of school shootings.

Buzzfeed had an interesting article just after the Santa Fe High School shooting Friday that addresses the issue of what these young men — and they are usually the outcasts (which, if the shunning is done particularly aggressively, can make one feel like they don’t exist. I remember it well from high school.) — might be after:

Experts told BuzzFeed News the recent uptick is likely due to the amount of attention the attacks get and the fixation on the people behind them, spurring copycats while at the same time desensitizing the public. Inadequate and poorly enforced laws don’t help, they added.

“These shooters get great satisfaction in doing this, and the media attention they get afterwards puts them in a place of history,” said Greg Shaffer, a 20-year FBI veteran and global security expert who studies domestic terrorism and active shooters. “We are also trying to use normal rational thoughts to define an irrational act, which is why we focus on them so much. But we will never understand why people like the Las Vegas gunman do what they do.”

Jaclyn Schildkraut, an expert on mass shootings research and assistant professor of public justice at the State University of New York, warned that the copycat effect is only getting worse.

“With the amount of coverage Parkland received, you probably will see an uptick,” said Schildkraut. “Copycatters are becoming a public safety issue.”

So that’s a cultural issue driven by news coverage, the possibility for insta-fame online, and the age-old truth that will always be with us: growing up is hard.

And maybe there are things we can do. As mentioned above, I’d personally like to stop seeing everything declared a mental illness so these kids stop feeling like they’re crazy and start realizing that the world is a tough place, and running into roadblocks trying to navigate it is normal. But again, another post for another time.

In the immediate, however, maybe there’s a way to start collectively scaling back the idea that superficial, empty stardom is some kind of great achievement in life so the next generation is a little more emotionally prepared to fail sometimes. Maybe we could address our values. And I don’t mean a top-down, mandated seminar on values. I mean individually, with our children and families.

As for guns, I’m a 2nd Amendment supporter and that’s not changing. But I agree with Schildkraut’s assessment in the Buzzfeed report.

“Stable is a reflection of our complacency,” she said. “We are putting a lot of Band-Aids on issues that need tourniquets to make people feel better, but at the end of the day, this will continue to be our reality until we fix and enforce the laws we already have.”