October 19, 2015

Sociology and Infamy

Headshot 3.13 cropcompressBy Karen Sternheimer

The news coverage of the shootings at Columbine High School in Littleton, Colorado in 1999 was one of the events that inspired me to write my first book, It’s Not the Media: The Truth about Pop Culture’s Influence on Children, which was published in 2003. I had purposely decided never to mention the shooters’ names, which my editor didn’t quite understand. “Everyone already knows their names,” she said. The information was out there, she insisted. I would just be providing a historical account of the event.

But I didn’t want their names in my book. I didn’t want to type them, and I didn’t want those individuals to get even a modicum of attention from my readers. The book wasn’t about them anyway, it was about the problem of coming up with simple solutions like blaming popular culture for complex social problems like youth violence.  I stood my ground, and their names do not appear anywhere in the book.

I thought of this upon hearing of the Twitter hashtag #dontsayhisname, a request from many survivors and residents of Roseburg, Oregon, in response to the shooting at Umpqua Community College. Obscurity may be the ultimate form of shunning in the internet age. Sadly, we all-too-often remember the names of perpetrators and forget the names of the victims as time goes by. Perhaps this hashtag will help change that.

Although it makes sense to learn about perpetrators of mass shootings in order to prevent future acts of violence, the line between information and glory can be a thin one. It is important to understand what might create the desire to act out violently, and exploring a person’s past and any writing or social media posts is a good idea. But can drawing attention to a violent individual also have a downside?

Ironically, the repeated public condemnation and elevation of the perpetrator to outlaw might be just what they were hoping for. If they experienced social rejection, acting out against strangers—representatives of a society they feel has acted out against them— might be the ultimate revenge.

From a sociological standpoint, learning about individuals in isolation—particularly those vilified as uniquely evil, separate from larger social patterns—sets us up to think about problems like violence as only an individual problem, rather than a societal one. We might think of violence as only the outcome of personal traits and ignore broader institutional problems that might contribute to it.

For instance, cultural scholar Jackson Katz and others’ work on the culture of masculinity explores how the need to prove one’s manhood is often accomplished through violence. Of course most of the time this happens on a much smaller scale, and often a socially acceptable one such as through sanctioned violence within competitive sports. Outside of sports, the notion of not backing down when one feels threatened or lashing out at those one feels victimized by is often accepted as a way of saving face. We might have a hard time seeing how such an extreme act of violence—shooting strangers who have not personally wronged you in any way—might be at all connected to broader social patterns when we focus so much on an individual as uniquely evil.

In addition, our international relations rely heavily on violence, or the threat of violence. Nations that don’t comply with the demands of the more powerful might face threats of bombs or ground troops. All too often, civilians who have nothing to do with these conflicts are injured or killed and become the “collateral damage” of wartime. Understanding patterns like these do not in any way excuse the shooter, but instead might help us find explanations about what might motivate someone to commit an act of extreme violence.

The other downside to becoming overly focused on an individual is that their experiences and characteristics might be generalized and unfairly applied to others. For instance, most people who experience mental illnesses are not violent. But upon hearing that a shooter might have had mental health problems might lead people to fear those suffering from mental illness and further isolate them. Although relatively few mentally ill people act out violently against other people, we can make the mistake of fearing people in need of help.

Is there a way to learn about what instigates mass shootings without creating a legacy of infamy which might create legendary status for shooters or other people who become famous for heinous deeds? What suggestions do you have?


Greetings Karen Sternheimer,

After reading your Blog I find that the overall conclusion of how to get the word out there without mentioning the subject is to, simply as you stated; to not reveal his name publicly. When bringing the news forth you should always emphasize the facts of the manner but never display any extra confidential information unless advised by a boss, then of course perform the duties as on the job description. If at all possible never give a killer fame.
If anything show more of the victims and the victim's family. Build more of them, to help them move forward, but not with intrusion. Let them be the ones, to be the ones to decide the ruling as far as outside information. Also with situations as such; your job can be dangerous, safety for yourself is first and foremost before safety for the public or enabling a criminals/criminal acts from others.

My view of thinking is if anyone becomes so violent or anxious enough to flip and pull the trigger even once, to me they are struggling mentally to an extreme level. There are People all around who seem content and you never know how their day is going or when they're gonna act out of impulse and start severely Killing people. Some people are still capable of functioning and participating on a normal daily basis before hand, and nobody could ever view them to kill before they had done so. Also I'm pretty sure the psych evaluation shined in the category as defined. As well as some of the shooters having pre psych evaluations that spotlighted directions of such.

If you feel none of these disorders I have labeled below are unable to cause you to act on impulse and pull a trigger, think again. Living in such a state of mind can certainly influence you to do anything.
The worse disorders can affect the more other disorders can develop, when they let the mind form to that extent.

I also have been diagnosed with many of these disorders, and have family of the disorders I do not have I would like to draw out my conclusion with I agree on making sure the "evil" types of mental illnesses become more defined and understood and does not get trapped with the same label of other disabilities, to me it also seems to light of a term rather than just an illness. So we can do what we can to find more research and links therefore we can work on steps to continuing more research until one day we will have just the right data we need in order to prevent such actions.

Mental Illnesses:

Major depression

A mood disorder - causing a persistent feeling of sadness and loss of interest.

Anxiety disorder -
A mental health disorder characterized by feelings of worry, anxiety, or fear that are strong enough to interfere with one's daily activities, ability to function or well being

Schizophrenia -
A brain disorder in which people interpret reality abnormally.

Bipolar disorder -
A disorder associated with episodes of mood swings ranging from depressive lows to manic highs.

Dementia -
A group of thinking and social symptoms that interferes with daily functioning.

Obsessive compulsive disorder -

Excessive thoughts (obsessions) that lead to repetitive behaviors (compulsions).

Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder -
A chronic condition including attention difficulty, hyperactivity, and impulsiveness.

Post traumatic stress disorder -
A mental health condition triggered by experiencing or seeing a terrifying event.

Autism -
A serious developmental disorder that impairs the ability to communicate and interact.


[ Google search definitions came up on first page:

( https://www.google.com/search?q=mental+illness+definition&oq=mental+illness+&aqs=chrome.1.69i57j0l5.6161j0j7&sourceid=chrome&es_sm=0&ie=UTF-8 ) ]

We have doctor that tells us we havr a problem, thrm pay you for the problem than expect you not to do anyrhing with ypur life. Then the meds they prescribe to make u kill r tjink crazy actions.

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