There was something different about the Marjory Stoneman Douglas shooting — something in the coverage and public response that was more emotionally raw than any other shooting aftermath. Reporters were breaking down on the scene. Social media was a slew of angst directed at the eternally inept government. Stoneman Douglas students who survived the shooting have been speaking out against gun violence with urgency — as they should — because public officials have been lacking in that department.
Indeed, the passivity of everything seems to be driving people crazy. We are beginning to recognize the pattern: mass shooting, obsessive coverage, public sorrow, public anger, talks of change and then everyone forgets until the next national tragedy. Nothing changes. Perhaps what is most maddening about American shootings is the coverage, and I do not make this claim lightly.
I think coverage of national tragedies is a large part of the reason why these tragedies frequently occur. It just so happens that nothing changes, which gives shootings the freedom to happen again. Nothing changes after these events because of, or mostly because of, our media.
I want to argue this social paralysis is built into our media today.
The possibility of a national memory is excluded by our media; in other words, inactivity and forgetfulness are inevitable consequences of news today.
Fifty-eight people died in the Las Vegas shooting less than six months ago, but up until last week, you would’ve thought we had already forgotten about it. So much of the shooting has been covered since last October. Stephen Paddock could be labeled as old news, and, in today’s times, anything considered old gets thrown away. There’s always been a lot going on in the world, but there hasn’t always been a CNN or New York Times to break the news to us live.
An effect of this constant flow of information is that nothing sticks in our minds. There is a difference between throwing one dart at a time and hurling a handful. Too much information is just as harmful as too little. There’s so much coverage of news it’s impossible to focus on or remember just one event.
This is a major problem. Memory is an essential ingredient of change. A person who reads 12 novels in three weeks dips their toes into the surface of each story, but the person who reads one novel in three weeks swims in it. The story has a deeper impact on the person. The same goes for media and social change.
We can’t remember what happened six months ago because there is always more information each day, and because we can’t remember, we don’t care. Nothing changes because nothing has an impact anymore — it’s all just news of the day. The Stoneman Douglas shooting, like all other shootings, deserves lamentation, but the problem is it won’t get the nation’s focus for more than 10 days. Our media literally cannot afford to dwell on individual events or people for too long, unless, like President Donald Trump, they perpetually manufacture content.
To us, there is no news of yesterday. You typically don’t see anchors talk about news from a few weeks ago, or even the day before. They are always discussing the news of the day. The same goes for social media. This is why I don’t understand how the cycle of passivity people are frustrated with can be solved in the very medium that causes the cycle. Any effort to fight for change from within the system risks becoming a part of the cycle: chewed on, spit out and forgotten like a piece of gum.
Trying to spark change through tweets or posts is like trying to lose weight by eating more. The intentions are good, but the methods will inevitably be fruitless. Sadly, and hypocritically, I’m not sure what the solution is, and I don’t know how the cycle can be broken.
All I know is that two weeks from now, the Stoneman Douglas shooting will become mostly forgotten. That is unacceptable. Real change will start when we dwell on and remember things that deserve to be dwelled upon.
Scott Stinson is a UF English junior. His column focuses on popular culture.