“ Infamy is a gift we give too eagerly, too often, and to too many…”
Can’t we stop giving so much attention to criminals, terrorists, and other
anti social actors?
Fifteen minutes of fame is one thing, but the insatiable appetite of the media to chronicle the life stories of those who kill or blow up people is troubling.
24 hour media feeding frenzies bestow rock star status on the disturbed among us, and give angry lone wolves macabre glorification when they act out their violent tendencies.
And worse, the more violent and senseless the action, the more attention the perpetrator gets and the deeper we cower in our beds after each, ensuing media circus.
Perhaps it’s just that now have we the digital capacity to thus immerse ourselves in tragedies, or maybe it’s a government conspiracy to keep the population afraid and acceptant of wealth disparity or Draconian government initiatives.
Either way, it’s frightening, and we seem to be encouraging violence with our inordinate preoccupation with it.
Our media should treat the actions of extremists and disturbed lone wolves with the disrespect they deserve. If we insist that the western world is under attack every time a deranged person does something, we risk encouraging that which we decry.
Report the act, but not the person. Indicate that the appropriate authorities are taking action and describe the positive manner in which the majority of the citizenry is behaving and move on.
In a younger life, as a school Principal, I quickly learned that one doesn’t discourage poor behaviour by predicting disaster when troubled students act out.
“I ‘d like to say that to whomever painted “Mr. Nelson is a jerk” on the back of the school that spray bombing buildings is an anti social and disrespectful act…”
Really? Is this information a spray bomber requires? Why do you think he did it in the first place?
Don’t respond. Say nothing. Smile and have the graffiti removed immediately. Act as if it’s inconsequential. Find out who’s responsible and reluctantly suspend them from school until there is an agreement about his paying for and repainting the wall, preferably when there are a few kids around to see him painting.
The power of depriving miscreants of attention combined with a cheerful stiff upper lip that things are generally positive can’t be under estimated.
I hear you cry, “ but surely graffiti and acts of extreme violence and murder can’t be equated.”
Perhaps, but here’s another example of how to “extinguish” behaviour.
When was the last time you saw a “streaker” at a televised sports event?
We had no idea how to respond to these drunken naked tossers who cheerfully disturbed the big game. We laughed a bit, talked about the perpetrator and then, as streaking became common, we got angry and preached about getting tough. Surprise, streaking became even more common- a fad, and we were worried about how to make them stop.
Streaking high profile events became pervasive enough that we were motivated to figure out how to discourage it. News outlets unanimously stopped giving streakers any media attention.
Suddenly, streakers weren’t televised or talked about. The camera moved to an announcer, who parenthetically mentioned that “some idiot” was responsible for a game delay and then quickly went on to consult a commentator about the game.
It worked. Immediately. No fifteen minutes of fame. Bored indifference shown by everyone. No more streakers – no glory, no fun, no attention. Anger didn’t work, fear didn’t work, but removing all attention worked spectacularly well.
A similar strategy has been successfully used in Metro Vancouver school gang policing strategy.
In the 80’s,local tweeners began donning LA Raiders or Chicago Bulls sports uniforms, with matching bandanas, hood ornaments on a chain around their necks, and a half bottle of Drakkar Noir cologne liberally sprinkled over everything they owned.
Schools responded by asking police about their possible “gang affiliation” and were rewarded with organizational charts of “Los Diablos”, “Red Eagle”, and “Lotus” gangs, their colours, their practices.
For a year or two, anything that happened in schools was attributed to these uniformed tweener “gang members”.
We tried to urge them out of dressing that way. We tried school liason officers that would interact with kids and talk them out of their imminent graduation to hard-core gang membership. Kids responded by buying an extra kerchief and splashing on more cologne.
Finally, we became resigned to the idea that we couldn’t fight conformity and we stopped talking about “gangs”.
Local police also stopped calling young kids “gang members” or even “wannabees” and just dealt with the disturbed among them as “active youth” instead of giving them the lofty status of “gangbanger”.
Surprise. As quickly as it started, the gang wannabee thing faded. No one got angry at them any more. No attention, no fun – and that cologne really did smell awful.
Kids migrated to blue hair, Mohawk haircuts, and piercings to announce their individuality and we got on with life sans “gangs.”
The above are low level anti-social behaviours that were effectively extinguished by denying attention to bad actors.
Clearly, radical terrorism and lone wolf violence won’t just stop if we simply ignore it and hope it goes away. There are long held cultural, religious, and political beliefs that spawn real violence. These are not children or drunken sports fans we’re dealing with so of course it’s not that simple.
I’m also not suggesting that we shouldn’t attempt to address and improve the hopeless and helpless situations that can make people violently strike out.
But I am convinced that an effective first step in the “war on terror” (after dropping the name “war on terror”), would be a media moratorium on unearthing and analyzing myriad gory details of horrific crimes and cradle to grave exposés of every moment of every criminal’s disturbing life.
Infamy is a gift we give too eagerly, too often and to too many.
As long as we continue to make people famous for blowing up or killing people, we are unwittingly encouraging the behaviour.