Killers, Media and Celebrity: See My Awesomeness!
Investigators and journalists are having a difficult time understanding the Las Vegas killer‘s motive. They keep searching for clues in his past life, and with his family members and associates. They are missing the obvious by ignoring one of the key aspects of modern American culture: Our fascination with celebrities.
By far the most popular TV show of the early 2000s was American Idol. During its fifteen year run hundreds of thousands of young Americans auditioned for the show, to become known as the American Idol, to be celebrated as the best new singer and entertainer in the country. This desire for celebrity is no surprise, since the United States is the number 1 individualistic culture in the world, and individualists focus much more on self than others. One way to focus on self is to get massive attention from others. For some fame becomes essential to a positive evaluation of self-worth.
Who are our celebrities? They are the ones who get the most national media attention. Celebrities come primarily from four domains: entertainment, sports, politics, national electronic media, and a few from business, science and other areas. These are the people that the rest of us see and read about all the time. It has been estimated that there are currently about 20,000 nationally famous celebrities of all types in the United States. This is a small select group compared to the millions of the rest of us.
How does one become a celebrity? The routes to positive celebrity, where a person becomes famous for doing something that creates at least some social value, are slow and problematic. These routes require talent, hard work and some luck. However there is a small group of people who, thanks to the media, have figured out that negative fame, notoriety, is a much easier route to achieving celebrity status.
Indeed, in our culture notoriety is as valued as fame for doing something positive. So what is the fastest way to achieve fame in the United States? Kill a large number of people at one time. Once the killing occurs, the media will do the rest. The killer is absolutely guaranteed of instant fame. His name and picture will be broadcast around the world, and forever after he will be remembered. He will be the headline story for all forms of media, both electronic and print. After all, if the lust for celebrity is overwhelmingly strong what difference does it make how you gain it? Mass killers value celebrity more than their freedom or even their lives.
Most journalists and media professionals are intelligent and well-educated. However they pretend not to understand the force multiplier concept. A force multiplier is any factor that greatly increases the impact of an individual, group or organization’s actions. Force multipliers are both illusions and self-fulfilling prophecies. A force multiplier first creates the illusion that the entity is stronger than it really is, and then it ultimately helps the entity actually becomes stronger. The national news media is a force multiplier for extremist organizations, and for individuals who engage in extreme acts to achieve instant celebrity. Every time there is a mass killing the media force multiplier effect creates two negative outcomes. One, as discussed it gives the killer instant celebrity, and two, it creates potential copycat killers who also want instant celebrity.
The FBI has compiled evidence that up to two thirds of the mass killings occurring in the last several decades have been perpetrated by copycat killers, who were emulating previous killers made famous by the media. National media organizations like to portray themselves as public servants. If they actually want to serve the public, they should make one simple but profound change in their mass killing reporting: do not publish the name or picture of the perpetrator. If media organizations are unwilling to do this voluntarily, Congress should pass a law banning the publication of perpetrator names and pictures. This would be one piece of legislation that would achieve overwhelming bipartisan support.
Anthony Stahelski can be reached at [email protected]