A while back the gym I go to semi-regularly installed flat panel TVs so that their customers would forget how unbelievably boring it is to run on a treadmill. At the time they installed the TVs they turned off the hot water in the showers, now they have hot water again and I think that’s a good thing. Exactly why installing the TVs made it necessary to turn off the hot water, I don’t know.
I tend to do my cycling and running in front of a TV tuned to MTV. Oh, MTV, I long for the days when you were actually MTV and not the reality TV and Jamba (or Jamster for the American readers) advertising channel you’ve turned into today. For those of you too young to remember, the “M” in MTV actually stands for “Music”. Who would’ve thunk it? The channel used to air a lot of music videos, only interrupted by the odd MTV News show. Now it’s mostly reality TV, or probably in some cases, fake reality TV, with a few music videos every now and then just for the heck of it.
During my normal work out times, MTV is showing The X Effect and Dismissed. These two shows have made me lose a little of my faith in human kind.
Every morning at work, I use fifteen minutes and browse through the latest news. A few days ago, the following story headlined three of the largest Norwegian online newspapers (because it’s pretty obvious that nothing more important could have happened during the last hour).
Meet Elena P. A 23 year old woman born in Russia, she now lives in Barcelona, Spain. After a long night out she comes home to her apartment, realizes that she has misplaced her apartment keys and knocks on the neighbor’s door for help. Her neighbor, not too helpful, decides calls the cops on her, which arrive and bring her in.
At the police station four officers rip her clothes off and beat her up. Welcome to Spain. These four cops were probably not among the brightest flashing lights on the force; they did it in an interrogation room equipped with video surveillance equipment, everything was recorded and images from the video soon made their way to newspapers all over the world.
To crush down on police brutality1 is important, but poor Elena. Not only has she been undressed and humiliated in front of four female coppers from Barcelona, now the entire world knows what she looks like without her top on. The three Norwegian newspapers I browsed that morning had all done their best to protect both their readers and Elena.
The story was exactly the same in all three newspapers, copied directly from a news agency bulletin. The main difference was the pictures used. Dagbladet, the second largest newspapers, which does not really focus that much on news these days, was more worried about their readers than Elena’s identity and used this picture:
Since I’m a very fragile man, I think it’s a good thing that they decided to remove her breasts – insert girlish giggling here. VG, the largest newspaper, possible focusing even more on sports and celebrity gossip than Dagbladet, knows how well sex sells and used this picture on the front page:
It’s not possible to visually identify poor Elena. Unless she takes her top off, that is. “Hey, don’t I know these from somewhere?”. For some strange reason, they’ve decided to use this image in the actual article:
90% of the male readers who clicked on the front page image probably hoped to see more boobs. We all felt a little cheated. Aftenpost, considered the more serious of the three and the third largest, only showed a picture of her back. And you wonder why they’re only hold the number three spot? I’d like to thank all the newspapers, Elena and the Spanish cops, for making the first fifteen minutes of my busy workday an interesting study in media psychology.
I guess you’ve heard all about of the Virginia Tech massacre and by now I wouldn’t be that surprised if you’re a bit tired of it, too. Even if you are, I’d appreciate it if you took the time to read through this entry. On Monday this week 23 year old Cho Seung-hui killed 32 people and injured 29 more before committing suicide. For years, Cho had been teased and picked on and was turned into an outcast. His behavior at Virginia Tech before his rampage was disturbing, to say the least.
Fellow student Julie Poole said that on the first day of a literature class last year the students introduced themselves one by one, but when it was Cho’s turn, he did not speak. The professor, she said, looked at the sign-in sheet and where everyone else had written their names, Cho had written a question mark. “We just really knew him as the question mark kid,” Ms Poole added.
Cho was removed from a poetry class and was described by his teacher as “intimidating… there was something mean about this boy. It was the meanness — I’ve taught troubled youngsters and crazy people — it was the meanness that bothered me. It was a really mean streak.” Cho had intimidated female students by photographing their legs under the desk and by writing obscene, violent poetry. Not a guy who easily makes friends, but by then it was probably too late for Cho.
At around 7:15 a.m. EDT Cho shots his first two victims. Between then and the second round of shootings, Cho goes to the post office and mails a parcel to NBC’s New York headquarters containing videos, photographs, and text explaining the reasons for his actions.
NBC decides to air the videos, show the photographs and make everything available to every news agency world wide, which in turn does the same thing.
When criminologists and psychologists look at mass murders, Cho fits the themes they see repeatedly: a friendless figure, someone who has been bullied, someone who blames others and is bent on revenge, a careful planner, a male. And someone who sent up warning signs with his strange behavior long in advance.
Think about that for a second. The mass murder profile fits a lot of people. I’m not saying that every single one of them will now go out and start killing people. But for some, seeing Cho get his 15 minutes of fame world wide might be that final push they need over the edge.
The police had found copies of all the material Cho mailed to NBC, but they decided not to tell the media about it. Clever move. NBC, on the other hand, decided to tell the world. Not that clever.