School Shootings: Mediatized Violence in a Global Age: Volume 7


Table of contents

(24 chapters)

In November 2009, scholars from different parts of the world converged on Helsinki for the Conference on Social Violence in the Network Society. Among those who participated were scholars in a variety of fields who have examined the media/communications dynamic of school shootings. This volume is the outgrowth of those discussions begun in that venue.1 Three years later, while the contributors to this volume were drafting their chapters, there was a 3 week period in late-March/early-April 2012 in which three events relevant to the topic of this volume occurred in three divergent settings. Case 1: in Toulouse, France a male serial killer murders three children at the Jewish Ozar Hatorah secondary school. The police besiege the killer and kill him after a violent standoff. The case makes news all over Europe, and beyond. Case 2: the Finnish news media tell the story of a young man who attacks a high school in the small town of Orivesi, Western Finland. Nobody is killed in the shooting, but the local community is shocked. The police catch the perpetrator, who claims his motive was to violate his ex-girlfriend, a student at the high school. Case 3: International news breaks about another school shooting at Oikos University in Oakland, California. The perpetrator, a former student of the school, kills seven people and injures several. The police later catch him, and when interviewed he claims he was bullied at school. Are these cases part of a unified phenomenon, or is their coincidence random?

This book contributes to the current academic discussion on school shootings by analysing this contemporary phenomenon in a broader context of media saturation in contemporary social and cultural life. We argue that in order to understand school shootings as a cultural and sociological phenomenon, we need to analyse this type of public violence from a variety of academic perspectives. By drawing on a range of empirical analyses of different school shooting incidents in the United States, Germany, Finland, and Canada, the authors in this volume demonstrate the diverse ways in which the media and school shootings are connected in contemporary society. Numerous frameworks are applied in these original analyses, including media violence, journalism, visual culture, and social networking. Our shared goal is to understand the complex interplay between media, society and school shootings, and certainly how this interaction is carried out in a range of cultural and societal contexts and settings.

Purpose – This chapter maps the conceptual territory that research on school shootings shares with cultivation analysis.

Methodology/approach – It outlines the history of cultivation analysis, which used the statistical methods of content analysis and survey research to argue that television violence was rampant and sexist, and that this had the effect of making audiences fearful. The point of this history is to show that the model was conceptually grounded in critical approaches to media, and established questions about the ideology of media violence that set the grounds for school shooting studies.

Findings – In particular, the chapter focuses on similarities between cultivation analysis and ritual theory, and the cultivation thesis that violence represents gender hierarchies, as the two most obvious points of intersections with studies on school shootings. It suggests that these intersections help explain why a “school shooting” frame was deployed to other sorts of media violence, and debates about the effects of media violence, using Jared Loughner's attack on Gabrielle Giffords as a case study.

Practical implications – Emerging concerns about the effects of aggressive news punditry and political commentary can be addressed by reflecting on what studies of school shootings say about the more general politics of media violence, and cultivation theory is an invaluable resource in this endeavor.

Originality/value of paper – Academically, an engagement with cultivation theory underlines how school shooting studies contribute to critical media research in general, by demonstrating the validity of “second generation” models of media influence in the digital age.

Purpose – The relationship of media influences and school shootings is analyzed on the background of an integrating metatheoretical framework, derived from socialization theory and a media appropriation model grounded in action theory.

Design/approach – Empirical findings and dynamic models of the significance of the media in the genesis of school shootings are integrated into the framework based on a review of the literature. Special focus is placed on the subjective functionality of the perpetrators’ prior media use, which is examined for its dependence on individual, cultural/societal, and interpersonal factors.

Findings – School shootings are a form of extreme violence where monocausal explanations fall short and cannot adequately account for the complex multifactorial causes of the phenomenon. However, we come to the conclusion that particular media do play a special role in the origination of school shootings, but in a way that can only be adequately comprehended if they are examined in connection with specific individual, socio-cultural, and interpersonal dynamics.

Originality/value – The chapter presents a conceptual frame within which possible relationships between media influence and school shootings are identified in the socialization contexts of the adolescent perpetrators.

Purpose – Video game violence has historically been offered by policy-makers and some scholars as one contributing factor to mass homicides, particularly with shooters who are young, male, and white. However, the evidence for or against such beliefs has not been closely examined.

Approach – The current chapter examines the research exploring violent video game playing and its links with violent and aggressive behavior. Further, research regarding mass school shooters is also examined. The chapter also engages in a sociological analysis of structural factors within both the general society and scientific community by which media is often identified as a potential cause of social problems.

Findings – Current evidence cannot support proposed links between video game violence and aggressive or violent behavior, whether mild or mass homicides. Efforts to blame mass homicides on video games appear to be due to unfamiliarity with games among older adults, prejudicial views of young offenders, and a well-identified cycle of moral panic surrounding media as a scapegoat for social ills. Poor peer-reviewing within the scientific community allowed scholars to participate in this moral panic.

Social implications – Time focused on video games as a cause of mass school shootings is time wasted. Discussions of mental health issues and mental health care are likely to bear more fruit in relation to mass school shootings.

Purpose – The consumption of violent media contents has been discussed as a risk factor for school shootings repeatedly. The results of research on U.S.-American offenders support this notion. However, to date only little is known about the extent to which these findings may be transferred and generalized to perpetrators from other countries.

Method – We analyzed the case files on seven school shootings perpetrated in Germany between 1999 and 2006.

Findings – In five cases, detailed qualitative content analyses revealed a marked interest in media violence during the years prior to the offense. In some cases, the media consumption slowly replaced other leisure activities, focussed on topics related to the offenses as killing sprees or former school shootings, and was partly described as being addictive. One offender even utilized the media for his own purposes in order to present himself postmortem. However, two perpetrators did not show any peculiar interest in media violence.

Practical and social implications – Violent media consumption is no necessary condition for school shootings, but seems to promote the development toward an offense under certain circumstances. Therefore, intensive media consumption, especially if thematically related to an offense, should be taken seriously and considered in prevention and intervention efforts.

Originality/value of chapter – The findings add to the literature on risk factors for school shootings with regard to violent media consumption. The subject is analyzed in detail in a sample of German offenders, thereby widening the scope of analyzed school shootings.

Purpose – This chapter is an exploration of how the Canadian media characterize the entire population of Canadian school shootings over a 25-year time period.

Methodology/approach – This chapter uses frame analysis to examine how the media characterize and frame Canadian school shootings within The Globe and Mail, a Canadian national newspaper.

Findings – This chapter demonstrates that the Canadian media utilize a small number of frames consistently over the 25-year period of analysis. Instead of changing their frame use within events over time, Canadian school shootings receive their own “frame emphasis,” reflecting the unique characteristics of each particular shooting. Additionally, the media utilize “exemplars,” or references to past North American school shootings, that serve as rhetorical anchors for future discussion of shooting events as they occur.

Research limitations/implications – As only one Canadian newspaper was utilized, this chapter may not be reflective of all Canadian news media.

Social implications – This chapter demonstrates the need to explore entire populations of school shootings in order to understand media frame use within and across events over time. It also demonstrates the need for international comparisons of school shootings, as the media utilize international exemplars to demonstrate links between school shooting events.

Originality/value of chapter – This chapter is unique in that it examines the entire population of Canadian school shootings to date (n=27), and it is the first to undertake a frame analysis of exclusively Canadian shootings.

Purpose – This chapter analyzes the visual coverage of amok school shootings with the aim of tracing particular patterns of visualization relating to the representation of victimizers and victims.

Methodology – Based on a qualitative mixed-method design combining visual content with visual context analysis of print and online coverage of the incidents, a tentative typology is developed to be tested in future empirical studies. The exploratory study builds on empirical data derived both from print and online coverage of two amok rampage incidents in Germany (Winnenden/Wendlingen, March 2009; Ansbach, September 2009). For comparative reasons the online visual coverage of three amok school shootings in the United States (Littleton, 1999; Red Lake, 2005; Blacksburg, 2007), two in Finland (Tuusula, 2007; Kauhajoki, 2008), as well as two additional cases in Germany (Erfurt, 2002; Emsdetten, 2006) were included in the sample.

Findings – A typology of mainly press photographs about amok school shootings with three main categories – visuals portraying the perpetrator(s), visuals portraying the victims, and visuals about the context. For each of the three main categories there are several subcategories. However, quality media focus on context visuals while tabloid media focus on the perpetrator, and sometimes on the victims. Additionally, a clear distinction between print and online media emerged, with quality print media adhering more strictly to privacy laws than both tabloid and quality online sites.

Research limitations – Different samples of amok events; only one with a full sampling of both print and online newspapers and magazines; TV coverage not taken into account.

Practical implications – Heightened media attention and the pervasive need of media to visualize violent events underscore the relevance of empirically based guidelines for photojournalists and editors alike. The results of this study are a first step in this direction.

Originality – The chapter contributes to visual communication research insofar as it presents a first theoretical and methodological approach to operationalize visuals in the context of reporting about a particular type of violent event.

Purpose – In the chapter, journalistic work ethics on the scene during school shootings and journalists’ psychological stress reactions after such work is studied.

Approach – Findings are based on several qualitative studies carried out separately at different time periods, spanning over a decade. Included cases are one from the United States, Columbine (1999), and two from Finland, Jokela (2007) and Kauhajoki (2008). Similarities and differences between cases are pinpointed, and general conclusions are drawn.

Findings – Results show that while technical equipment and publication platforms have developed between cases, journalists’ ethical issues, response to public criticism, and patterns of postcrisis reactions remain similar.

Practical implications – As implications in the area of journalism ethics and stress reactions, the authors conclude that work in crises will be the rule rather than the exception during a journalist's career. Ethical considerations and individual response patterns to an event interact in complex ways. Personal preparation and knowledge in the area of ethics are of crucial importance for being able to function professionally during assignments.

Social implications – Personal knowledge regarding journalism ethics and psychological stress are of importance, since individual mistakes when informing about a crisis can have long-lasting societal effects.

Value of chapter – In the chapter, the authors underline the need to develop a personal understanding of typical crisis-related journalistic work strategies (autopilot/hyper mode), ethical boundaries, and possible stress reactions, for enabling an adequate work approach during assignments. Also, a number of possible predictors for emotional distress in journalists during crisis-related assignments are proposed.

Purpose – This study looks at the explanations given in Finnish media for the two school shootings that took place in the country in 2007 and 2008. It also investigates how Finnish journalists reflected on the explanations and the problems they posed to journalists’ professional values.

Design/methodology/approach – The study gives an overview of the most common explanations for the two incidents in the media through a textual analysis. A qualitative reading of interviews with journalists after the two school shootings sheds more light on journalists’ reflections on the explanations given. The findings are considered against the concept of professional values of journalism in Finland.

Findings – The media coverage of explanations varied markedly between the two school shootings. After the first rampage, explanations centered on the shooter and portrayed the incident as an “isolated case,” whereas after the second rampage journalists focused on societal problems and authorities’ wrongdoings in their explanations. The change can be attributed to the different nature of the two incidents, plus journalists’ increased need to pay attention to audience feedback in the rapidly changing media landscape. The altered ways of reporting also indicated a partial rethink of the professional values among journalists. With the school shootings, Finnish journalists’ traditionally strong support for deontological ethics as the cornerstone of disaster reporting declined slightly, with teleological ethics gaining prominence.

Originality – The study provides new insights into recent changes and developments of disaster reporting and journalists’ professional values in Finland.

Purpose – It is often difficult to assign blame to youthful violent offenders, and journalists may be uncertain how to determine the moral culpability of performers of horrific crimes such as school shootings.

Methodology/approach – In order to examine journalists’ assignation of moral responsibility for school shooting events, this article examines the sequencing dynamic (i.e., the order in which elements of news reportage appear) present in article lead sections from 112 New York Times articles about nine rampage school shootings occurring in the United States between 1997 and 2001.

Findings – Analysis revealed that journalists initially tended to select sequences that more clearly assigned blame. Over time journalists tended to rely on details that highlighted the contextual elements, rhetorically reducing the moral responsibility of the perpetrators. School shootings may ultimately be remembered as horrible events, but the youthful nature of the offenders and other contexts of the events will tend to mitigate the shooters’ moral culpability.

Originality/value of chapter – This study is the first to apply Cerulo's (1998) concept of sequencing to glean information about the moral decision-making process involved in the production of news content about school shootings.

Purpose – This study examines perpetrators and their fans media participation for the purpose of investigating whether new media produce school shootings anew.

Method – We first analyze the narrative structure of eight school shooters’ 75 self-produced videos (1999–2011), then conduct thematic and content analysis of this material. Then, based upon a three-year ethnographic investigation of a subculture on YouTube (2007–2010), from which a sample of 81 users, 142 videos, and screenshots of natural conversation was taken, we analyze the style and ritual practices, fan attachment, and online regulation of the subculture.

Findings – The mirroring of the school shooters’ videos and their fans’ media practices highlights a trait of contemporary society: a need for distinction and intrinsic individuality directly linked to a modern era in which autonomy and self-production have become well-praised norms, and media a support for individuation.

Social implications – We observe some of the pitfalls of contemporary social injunctions and how the media interplay into this dynamic. This research also emphasizes the role of regulation in an online subculture: opposition encountered tends to contribute to the individualization of positions rather than the reproduction of violence.

Value of paper – This study provides a starting-point for future research in visual communication and online fan-based subcultures related to contemporary forms of violence.

Purpose – The Columbine and Virginia Tech shootings have presented new challenges in how the media covers school shootings. These events have transformed Eric Harris, Dylan Klebold, and Seung-Hui Cho not only from disgruntled youth to school killers, but also into actors, writers, and directors of their own narrative.

Methodology/approach – This article focuses on the role of the masculine identity and underlying messages in the communicative process of the shooters. Further examination looks at what particular messages the shooters are communicating through the media. This includes an analysis into their journals, internet postings, and videos that were left behind as archives of the performative scripts. Finally, reflection is presented in terms of which parts of the shooters’ messages are or are not communicated and why.

Findings – This article considers the differences in the Columbine and Virginia Tech cases in terms of who is controlling the information that gets released to the public. In the case of Columbine, information was or was not released by the Jefferson County Sheriff's Office, whereas in the case of Virginia Tech, nearly all decisions regarding material release was made by the media (particularly NBC News).

Originality/value of paper – This article applies Muschert and Ragnedda's (2010) examination of cultural scripts to two benchmark cases, examining the mediatization of the shooters’ own words.

Purpose – The purpose of this chapter is to discuss the complex interplay between the media, school shootings and society from the perspective of mediatization of the victim. In mediatization of the victim, the media, in a crisis, plays a key role in connecting people, disseminating information, compiling a security-related picture and providing for potential new emergencies.

Design/approach – The chapter draws on Winfried Schulz's (2004) typology for the analysis of mediatization of the victim in the multidimensional manner. It examines how mediatization works in practice by applying Schulz's typology in the analysis of the two school shootings in Finland in Jokela in 2007 and in Kauhajoki in 2008. The empirical material consists of interviews with police, state and municipal officials and people from non-governmental organizations. Media materials (electronic and print) were collected from the major Finnish media houses and several state and community official web sites.

Findings – The chapter argues that the media shapes the construction of the victim in the process of mediatization and makes the role of victim and witness both central and ambiguous. The chapter concludes by drawing upon the work of French sociologist Luc Boltanski (1999) on morality, media and politics as it identifies the ways in which mediatization engages the affective potential of the spectator and evokes a specific disposition to act upon the suffering, thus, creating a moralizing effect on the spectator.

Originality/value – The chapter produces new theoretical and empirical knowledge on the complex interplay between the media, school shootings and society by discussing it from the perspective of the victim. Consequently, it contributes in deepening our understanding of the process of mediatization and the place of the victim in it in the case of violent crisis such as school shootings.

Purpose – This chapter analyses social networks and discourses in relation to YouTube videos and user comments relating to the traumatic event of a school shooting.

Methodology/approach – First, general patterns in the YouTube responses are mapped. What was the overall structure of the flow of videos posted in response to a shooting? Second, social network aspects are discussed. Which systems of interrelated (re)actions emerge through the videos? Finally, a set of three videos representing key texts in the analysed discursive formation are further analysed as regards the written discourse of their comment threads.

Findings – Participants were organised in the form of relatively autonomous and isolated islands of meaning making, but one could still identify a core public engaging in the creation, maintenance and negotiation of the branching and relatively open-ended narratives that recount and try to make sense of what happened and why.

Implications – The main result is that, also in relation to largely dramatic and tragic events such as a school shooting, there are patterns to support the idea of an emerging new media landscape where audiences play an increasingly active role as co-producers of content and interpretations.

Originality of paper – The paper deals with comments as well as video content, and on analysing them from the joint perspectives of social network analysis and discursive network analysis. This means that results give knowledge about two things; how the YouTube audience(s) to videos about the Virginia Tech shooting is/are organised, and what topics are discussed in relation to the videos.

Purpose – This chapter examines the role of the media, guns, and violence in the social construction of masculinity in today's mediatized American culture.

Methodology – The chapter draws on critical theory and cultural studies to address crises of masculinity and school shootings. It applies and further develops Guy Debord's (1970) theory on spectacle in the contexts of contemporary violent media spectacles.

Findings – In the chapter it is argued that school shooters, and other indiscriminate gun killers, share male rage and attempts to resolve crises of masculinity through violent behavior; exhibit a fetishism of guns or weapons; and resolve their crises through violence orchestrated as a media spectacle. This demands growing awareness of mediatization of American gun culture, and calls for a need for more developed understanding of media pedagogy as a means to create cultural skills of media literacy, as well as arguing for more rational gun control and mental health care.

Originality/value of paper – The chapter contributes to the contemporary debate on mediatization of violence by discussing it within critical theory and cultural studies. The theoretical framework is applied to analysis of a range of different empirical cases ranging from school shootings to the Colorado movie theater massacre at the first night of the latest Batman movie in the summer of 2012.

No genre of news reporting generates the same pressures as covering trauma. Multiple casualty incidents, such as the school shootings that are the subject of this volume, challenge reporters to find words for the results of actions that might more naturally be described as unspeakable. To paraphrase MacDuff's reactions to the murder at the court of MacBeth in Shakespeare's play, what take place in the familiar, supposedly safe and mundane settings of school classrooms and corridors are horrors that neither ‘heart nor tongue can conceive of’. For journalists such incidents raise acute ethical and practical dilemmas about how to approach and interview victims and survivors in ways that are less likely to add unnecessarily to their distress. Then there are the news choices which have to be made: how does one produce narratives that are informative and compelling but that avoid playing into the agendas of the perpetrators or inspiring copycat behaviour? And on top of that – what responsibilities do news editors owe the public in assisting them to digest information which may tear through their assumptions that the world is, for the most part, a stable and orderly place?

School rampage shootings are acts of terrorism. As Walter Laqueur (1977) noted, “…Terrorists’ attitudes toward the media as a whole have been friendly, and with good reason. The success of a terrorist operation depends almost entirely on the amount of publicity it receives” (p. 109, emphasis added). School rampage shootings qualitatively changed after Columbine from merely realized revenge fantasies to orchestrated media events (Larkin, 2009). Laqueur noted in reference to terrorist acts that they are “propaganda by deed” (1977, p. 49). The more outrageous the act, the more “senseless” in terms of conventional interpretations of reality, the greater the body count, the larger and more intense the media feeding frenzy. Innocent victims are thus sacrificed to the perpetrators’ need to be recognized and to be taken seriously. In the wake of (Columbine shooters) Harris and Klebold's “Basement Tapes,” videotapes of their activities and fantasies, web pages, diaries, doodles, lists, and even school paper assignments, it is now incumbent on any rampage shooter to produce a manifesto, videotapes, pictures, websites, and messages in any newly invented medium to vent his anger, frustration, theory of revolution, and rationale for his act. I use the term “his” because rampage shootings are, in part, a response to a crisis in hegemonic masculinity (Kellner, 2008; Kimmel & Mahler, 2003; Larkin, 2011), which has been mentioned by several researchers in this volume.

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Studies in Media and Communications
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Emerald Publishing Limited
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