Messaging The Shooter

Chris Rock, the comedian, has a vivid way of describing anti-Semitism as a society's reaction to what ails it: “That train's never late.”

Too true. Scapegoating, originating in the Biblical Jewish rite for the expiation of sin, has been for millennia turned against the people who ritualized it. No livestock required. In pogrom after pogrom, the role of the goat was played by actual Jews. Because when things go wrong, someone must be blamed -- and we blame what and whom we most fear and mistrust, and we fear and mistrust what we least understand.

Bigotry and ignorance. Those trains never stop running. Whenever a society is confronted with evil, or just plain tragedy, the handwringing begins in earnest. There must be a deeper, more sinister, more pernicious explanation. When a deranged kid, armed to the teeth, murders two classrooms full of children, it can’t simply be about Americans’ near universal access to unlimited quantities of firearms and ammunition. Something else must be making lunatics kill.



The Jews? Tempting, tempting. But, no -- it must be a force even more ubiquitous and immoral and malign.

The media! But of course. Here is Wayne LaPierre of the National Rifle Association, illuminating the real culprits in Sandy Hook and 2012's other mass shootings in Colorado, Pennsylvania, Georgia, Wisconsin, Florida, California, Oklahoma, Washington, Delaware, Texas and Oregon:

And here's another dirty little truth that the media try their best to conceal: There exists in this country a callous, corrupt and corrupting shadow industry that sells, and sows, violence against its own people.

Through vicious, violent video games with names like Bulletstorm, Grand Theft Auto, Mortal Kombat and Splatterhouse. And here's one: it's called Kindergarten Killers. It's been online for 10 years. How come my research department could find it and all of yours either couldn't or didn't want anyone to know you had found it?

Then there's the blood-soaked slasher films like "American Psycho" and "Natural Born Killers" that are aired like propaganda loops on "Splatterdays" and every day, and a thousand music videos that portray life as a joke and murder as a way of life. And then they have the nerve to call it "entertainment."

But is that what it really is? Isn't fantasizing about killing people as a way to get your kicks really the filthiest form of pornography?

In a race to the bottom, media conglomerates compete with one another to shock, violate and offend every standard of civilized society by bringing an ever-more-toxic mix of reckless behavior and criminal cruelty into our homes — every minute of every day of every month of every year.

Get it? Day after day, like telepathic signals from Son of Sam's dog, the media are urging all of us to kill. 

(Come to think of it, on the subject of unspoken messages,  between the words “the” and “media,” can you hear LaPierre's dog-whistling “Jew-controlled?” Maybe that's just my imagination, or perhaps it's the sound of the train, at some distance, heading for the station.)

Anyway, the NRA observes correctly: the media are awash in gratuitous violence -- just as they were in the 1930s, 1940s, 1950s and 1960s. Countless dime novels, broadcasts, comic books and movies about cowboys, gangsters, cops, private eyes and soldiers titillated audiences with gunplay and body counts -- resulting somehow in vanishingly few actual mass shootings of actual flesh-and-blood Americans in schools, workplaces, shopping malls and theaters. And why? Because Jimmy Cagney was less murderous than Jason Statham?

No. Because guns were harder to come by.

Despite hundreds of peer-reviewed studies on the relationship between media violence and actual violence, no researcher has ever demonstrated a historical correlation between the two. On the contrary, the jagged trend line of violent crime in America looks nothing at all like the trend line for depictions of violence in mass media.

Yet this scapegoating of the media persists -- including, of course, the Evil of All Evils, advertising. Ad Age this week ran an op-ed titled "In a Culture of Mass Shootings, the Ad Industry Shares the Blame." David Morse, who runs a research shop called New American Dimensions, strains to draw that very link. I say “strain” because he uses so many question marks to equivocate that the column is as much quiz show as commentary. Still, he seems to be advising the advertising industry to walk away from the gun lest it have more blood on its hands.

Oh, for crying out loud. What fatuous scapegoating. Morse is imputing sinister powers to an institution that most of the time can't get Americans to switch deodorants. Dude -- advertising doesn't kill people.

People kill people. With guns.


15 comments about "Messaging The Shooter".
Check to receive email when comments are posted.
  1. Pooky Amsterdam from PookyMedia, January 7, 2013 at 11:15 a.m.

    This is an impassioned plea for humanity and it is so great to read - Thank you. I also fear that all this gamifying of murder is just truly desentisizing us to how important human life really is, and encouraging us to view people as disposable.
    Truly something is wrong with that!

    Really appreciate you Mr. Garfield and the best to you and yours this 2013.
    Peace on Earth & Goodwill to all!

  2. Bob Ledrew from Translucid Communications , January 7, 2013 at 11:33 a.m.

    As others have pointed out, Lapierre's bizarre speech also chose some weird examples to highlight.

    Bulletproof: 2011
    Grand Theft Auto: 1997
    Mortal Kombat: 1992
    Splatterhouse: 1988
    Kindergarten Killer: 2002 (?)

    Natural Born Killers: 1994
    American Pyscho: 2000

    A number of these games and movies were utter commercial failures (American Psycho) or never actually released commercially (Kindergarten Killers). At least when smallminded idiots took on comics in the 50s, they took on ones that might have actually been read by someone.

  3. Susan Roane from The RoAne Group, January 7, 2013 at 11:39 a.m.

    This is a very insightful and thought-provoking post that gives an historic frame of reference for scapegoating.
    I learned from reading Mr. Garfield's post and that, for me, is compelling.

    Thank you!

  4. Richard Linnett from Bombastic, January 7, 2013 at 12:30 p.m.

    Oh the poor media!

    Fact is, every conflict nowadays in the movies is resolved at the barrel of spraying bushmaster or some such semi/automatic weapon. It's pathetic and sick, and whether you like it or not, Bobby, it does influence the easily influenced. The media and Hollywood is a cynical bunch.

  5. Peter Scott-Smith from FiveSight LLP, January 7, 2013 at 12:48 p.m.

    Congratulations Mr Garfield from an envious Brit hack wordsmith. Your article is the most brilliant and passionate piece of polemic I have ever read in my fifty years in the ad biz.

  6. Edward Bernays from self employed, January 7, 2013 at 1:21 p.m.

    The conscious and intelligent manipulation of the organized habits and opinions of the masses is an important element in democratic society. Those who manipulate this unseen mechanism of society constitute an invisible government which is the true ruling power of our country. ...We are governed, our minds are molded, our tastes formed, our ideas suggested, largely by men we have never heard of. This is a logical result of the way in which our democratic society is organized. Vast numbers of human beings must cooperate in this manner if they are to live together as a smoothly functioning society. ...In almost every act of our daily lives, whether in the sphere of politics or business, in our social conduct or our ethical thinking, we are dominated by the relatively small number of persons...who understand the mental processes and social patterns of the masses. It is they who pull the wires which control the public mind.

  7. Steven Yanovsky from Customer Focused Solutions, January 7, 2013 at 4:11 p.m.

    This is an important conversation for us to have now. Let's not forget all the mass shootings that we, as a society, have witnessed lately. The right to bear arms to go hunting has nothing to do with owning, or buying automatic weapons and high capacity magazines. You don't need any M-16 to hunt a deer. Thank you for not letting us forget the carnage that took place in an elementary school in CT, and that we need to be responsible and put an end to this forever!

  8. Chuck Lantz from, network, January 7, 2013 at 4:24 p.m.

    If LaPierre is correct, then London must have been a hell-hole of mass murders when Hamlet and Macbeth were first staged.

  9. Timothy Allen from Ephrata Review, January 7, 2013 at 4:47 p.m.

    Scapegoating the NRA are we?

  10. Madeleine Forrer from NRTC, January 7, 2013 at 5:03 p.m.

    I agree that this is an important conversation to have right now. But before we begin the debate, let's agree on the objective. I want my niece and nephew safe at school. Taking guns away from the people -- that solves nothing. I want an intelligent discussion about how we accomplish the objective.
    My perspective is entirely different from most here. What I see are families who have no access to the support they need to deal with mental health issues their children are struggling with. It would be great if just removing guns would solve this. But then, a very smart kid who is unstable or imbalanced goes to the grocery store with a bomb recipe they found on the web. Guns can easily be replaced by something else. Don't fall for the bait and get caught in a cul-de-sac on this one.

    Let's try having a serious, civil discussion about these things, or they will continue to happen on a scale that is distrubing, frightening and heartbreaking to us all.

  11. Tim Orr from Barnett Orr Marketing Group, Inc., January 7, 2013 at 6:04 p.m.

    I worry that with the number of firearms of all types already available, limiting the number of new ones entering the mix may be too little, too late. At the same time, I believe that very often, the perfect is the enemy of the good. We need to try some things. We need to try several things. And we need the courage, if something doesn't work or makes things worse, to stop doing it – and try something else. Unfortunately what I see is various groups trying to tell me they have all the answers and that anything not on their list is wrong. Scapegoating is easier than experimenting.

  12. Paula Lynn from Who Else Unlimited, January 7, 2013 at 8:16 p.m.

    Chuck, London was a hell hole of plague when and MacBeth were written. This past weekend, the box office winner was Texas Chain Saw Murders while new locks for school classrooms invented by a teacher have been praised by the authorities for security in case another disturbed person lets loose. And who is going to pay for all of the mental health facilities, available access, health care providers and their years of expensive education ? The same paranoid hypocritical folk who want to cut medical services are now touting them as a panacea.

  13. Thorsten Rhode from marqueteer, January 8, 2013 at 7:28 p.m.

    I 'strain' to see how the whole 'Jew-scapegoating' angle works to the advantage of this article -- but agree with the general takeaway. The NRA argument gets even weaker when we look to Europe where a lot of the US' 'violent' programming (on TV and in theaters) as well as video games are published unaltered. Miraculously, though, mass murders and killing sprees are nowhere near a comparable level. While (more difficult) access to guns may not be the only reason for that, I am confident that there is a certain causality.

  14. John Grono from GAP Research, January 9, 2013 at 10:50 p.m.

    Just as well down here in Australia we didn't get the violent video games like Bulletstorm, Grand Theft Auto, Mortal Kombat and Splatterhouse. Hang on, what's that .... we did ... oh! What, and Kindergarten Killers as well. So how come we don't have the same violence levels here? We did have an awful deragnged shooting spree at Port Arthur back in 1996 resulting in 35 deaths that shocked our nation into action. We not only tightened our gun ownership laws but had a compulsory gun buy-back scheme for illegal firearms funded by a one-year one-percent income tax levy resulting in 600,000 illegal guns being handed in. The exercise was repeated in 2003 resulting in around a further 50,000 guns being surrendered.

  15. Tom Messner from BONACCOLTA MESSNER, January 12, 2013 at 9 a.m.

    Do you think there will be a film made of the shooting in Connecticut? There is a very good tax credit deal for film production in that state, and my guess is 100 screenplays have already been written and are in the hands of agents, backers, attached directors, and the parents of child actors looking to be victims.
    The Hamlet and Macbeth notation was interesting to me in that I just read a long ago essay written by Mary McCarthy in which she argued for the utter banal commonplace evil of Macbeth, comparing him to Arendt's Eichmann in Jerusalem. Hamlet was almost five hours in iambic pentameter and the audience was more likely to recognize the evil of merely contemplating murder and/or revenge. Art has to have effect, though. Did Wagner move Hitler to seek Lebensraum and Eine Judenfrei Deutschland? Was Stalin pushed by Pushkin (bad pun) or Dostoevski? Tse Tung would have needed subtitles so he was probably a self-motivated mass murderer, as well as Pol Pot who at best derived his killing mood from Adolf, Josef, and Mao.

Next story loading loading..