Much of the grieving nation is up in arms about the number of major media gaffes and indiscretions regarding yesterday's tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut. Interviewing students as young as second grade who had just been reunited with their parents, for instance. Not to mention the misidentification of supposed suspect Ryan Lanza, whose face was posted all over the news and the Internet before the shooter was actually revealed to be his 20-year-old brother Adam.
In lieu of the feeding frenzy, an excerpt of the 2003 review of the Lars Von Trier film Elephant (inspired by Columbine) is making the rounds on the Internet, particularly one revealing passage. Shortly after the events at Little Rock, Ebert was asked for sound bites to support a theory for Tom Brokaw's NBC Nightly News about the role that violent films play in school shootings. Ebert wasn't having it.
"Events like this," I said, "if they are influenced by anything, are influenced by news programs like your own. When an unbalanced kid walks into a school and starts shooting, it becomes a major media event. Cable news drops ordinary programming and goes around the clock with it. The story is assigned a logo and a theme song; these two kids were packaged as the Trench Coat Mafia. The message is clear to other disturbed kids around the country: If I shoot up my school, I can be famous. The TV will talk about nothing else but me. Experts will try to figure out what I was thinking. The kids and teachers at school will see they shouldn't have messed with me. I'll go out in a blaze of glory."
In short, I said, events like Columbine are influenced far less by violent movies than by CNN, the NBC Nightly News and all the other news media, who glorify the killers in the guise of "explaining" them. I commended the policy at the Sun-Times, where our editor said the paper would no longer feature school killings on Page 1. The reporter thanked me and turned off the camera. Of course the interview was never used. They found plenty of talking heads to condemn violent movies, and everybody was happy.
'Roger Ebert on the media's coverage of school shootings' [kottke.org]