While it is likely that limiting access to the kinds of weapons used in mass killings such as Las Vegas would help reduce their frequency and tolls, looking only at gun control misses the deeper problem of media’s role in fostering a cultural embrace of violence and desensitization to its consequences.
LAS VEGAS (Analysis) – Like other mass shootings before it, the horrific shooting in Las Vegas has quickly turned into a debate over gun control and the 2nd Amendment. While the debate this time around has seen some notable concessions from top Republicans and even the National Rifle Association (NRA), it – as in the past – has proceeded largely along partisan lines, further exacerbating the divisions already rife within American society.
The gun control debate is complex; even among left-leaning, independent journalists there are varied opinions. However the debate – over what to regulate, background checks, and the like – often misses other major causes of America’s great problem with violence. Chief among these is a media that worships war, glorifies certain types of violence, and desensitizes generations to abhorrent scenes of death and gore. Given media’s crucial role in informing culture, the gun control debate’s frequent omission of the cultural component of these senseless acts of violence speaks volumes.
Violence as a Hollywood/media production value
Following the Las Vegas shooting, scores of celebrities called for increased gun control and immediate legislative action to make that a reality. However, none of these celebrities has been critical of the movies and music videos, in which many among them appear, that both normalize and glorify violence.
As recently reported by Insurge Intelligence, Hollywood has a long-standing history of doing such – often at the behest of the Pentagon, CIA, and the NSA. These agencies, on numerous occasions, have manipulated or rewritten movie scripts and even prevented films critical of the U.S. war machine from being made. A major sector of Hollywood, as Insurge Intelligence noted, essentially serves as “a propaganda machine for the U.S. national security apparatus,” a system built on violence and its perpetuation for dominance and profit.
Yet Hollywood’s normalization of violence pales in comparison to the efforts of the U.S. corporate media. As journalist John Pilger has noted, the so-called “liberal” media “present themselves as enlightened, progressive tribunes of the moral zeitgeist.” While often promoting ostensibly “liberal” issues such as racial harmony, feminism, LGBT rights, and gun control, they also glorify war and make excuses for the slaughter of innocents abroad.
Take, for instance, CNN’s recent interview with John McCain, which portrayed McCain’s comments calling for the “extinction” of North Korea – a nation of 25 million people – as entirely normal. A day after McCain made those comments, which many viewed essentially as a call for genocide, CNN wrote a hagiography of the Arizona Senator, titled “The Inspiring Joy of McCain.”
The examples of such willing acceptance and glorification of calls for war and violence are rife in recent U.S. media history. So too are examples of the U.S. corporate media toeing the government line prior to major U.S. military operations like the Iraq War. In the lead-up to the 2003 invasion of Iraq, the corporate media obediently echoed false claims pushed by the government that Iraq possessed “yellowcake uranium” as well as a massive arsenal of “weapons of mass destruction” — dutifully manufacturing consent for the coming invasion.
The disaster that ensued – beginning with half a million civilian deaths caused by the invasion and subsequent occupation – is rarely mentioned by these same outlets.
Watch | Max Blumenthal On How The Media Promotes War
The media also celebrates the military’s adoption of lethal weaponry and its ability to kill people en masse. For example, a recent FOX News article praises the new ATHENA laser weapon system, noting that compared to the futuristic weapon “the weapons of any enemy will look like bows and arrows” and crowing that ATHENA “can destroy enemy threats within seconds” because it is “silent, invisible and deadly.” However, the article makes no mention of how the U.S. military loosely defines the term “enemy” in the age of the “War on Terror,” nor the fact that the U.S. frequently targets civilians, who are often posthumously labeled as “enemy combatants” in order to avoid critical scrutiny.
The tragic cycle of violence and its presentation as entertainment
The U.S. media – including corporate news and Hollywood, along with the TV and music industries – is constantly promoting violence, particularly when the U.S. military is the perpetrator of that violence. However, even when it condemns violence, the coverage is still presented essentially as an entertainment package. It is wall-to-wall, non-stop, and voyeuristic, making sure the perpetrator(s) will live in infamy – a motivation for some – and further desensitizing the U.S. public to spectacles of violence and senseless deaths. The abhorrent quickly becomes normal.
What is the cultural effect of this constant exposure to violence? Some experts have argued that as many as half of all yearly homicides in the U.S. are due to “the influence and desensitizing effects of media violence” — given that these media depictions often model the use of deadly force, whether in movies or in news, as the the primary means of resolving problems and conflict. Studies have also found that some TV viewers can develop post-traumatic stress disorder after viewing repeated, traumatic images in the media. Others still have found that the high incidence of violence in the media makes people “numb” to the pain and suffering of others. This shriveling of human empathy in turn makes the “real world” all that more conflict-ridden, violent, and dangerous.
Though the gun control debate does have its place following mass shootings such as that in Las Vegas, the discussion of solutions to such tragedies is consistently myopic as the role of the constant violence found throughout the U.S. media is ignored. It is the media that glorifies violence and death under some circumstances and condemns it under others, suggesting some lives are worth more than others — and increasingly blurring the line between fiction and reality, wrapping it all into a splendidly profitable entertainment product. For all the coverage of the Las Vegas shooting in recent days, don’t expect the media or its celebrities to take a long, unblinking look at their own role in American gun violence.
Top photo | In this March 15, 2016 photo, guns for rent are on display at a shooting range and retail store in Cherry Creek, Colo. (AP/Brennan Linsley)