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(DV) Rajiva: Virginia Tech, the American Media, and Violence





Pulp Drama and Punditry
Virginia Tech, the American Media, and Violence

by Lila Rajiva
April 21, 2007

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On Thursday, the mainstream media took up the question that we unwashed Vinnies (I hereby proudly adopt Brian Williams’ contemptuous term for unpaid, solo bloggers) have been asking since Day One: What is the responsibility of the authorities (Virginia Tech and the State of Virginia) in this tragic business? 

According to some people that question is off-limits. How can you be so lacking in compassion, someone asked me.  

I guess because I'm too busy feeling compassion for the poor kids who got blown to bits -- and for their families -- to waste too much sympathy on guilt-or-angst-or-litigation-induced pangs among bureaucrats. Had Virginia Tech’s bosses been CEOs, I doubt whether progressives would be so sympathetic. Bottom line is people at the top of organizations are paid a lot of money to take responsibility to see that things like this don’t take place. And so far, I haven’t see anyone stepping down from their posts -- which in the old days would be de rigeur. One would assume that that would be the first act of individuals prone to taking responsibility for their actions.  

So, if Williams & Co. are asking a few pointed questions now, more power to them.

We hope we are in for some incisive reporting on how psychiatric illness is treated in this country and what went wrong with security at V. Tech.  

We wish, however, that the media had shown such keen interrogative skills when they were swallowing every lie and distortion handed down to them from the government on other matters . . . like the run-up to the Iraq war or the prolonged cover-up of the government’s torture policies. 

Now it remains to be seen whether the rest of the coverage for the V. Tech shooting will be in the time-honored tradition of a respectable fourth estate, which is to confront and question -- as vigorously as possible -- the pronunciamentos of those in power. Being “nice,” unfortunately, is not part of that job description. 

Instead, it looks like we are getting more helpings of the usual pulp drama that reigns supreme on the air.   

First, we had a focus on the most sensational aspects of the case -- not hard to do in an obviously sensational case filled with ambulances screeching around a lush campus and sex-and-guts laden manuscripts. Thus, we had NBC’s re-re-replaying of the Cho video that immediately set off -- what a surprise! -- copycat threats all over the country. Scores of serial killings and school shootings haven’t taught the networks that that’s what happens when you give too much prime time air to pathological killers: it brings out all the wannabe’s from the woodwork. I guess they thought airing Cho’s berserker promo was as harmless as parading Sanjaya on American Idol. 

Why not just present us with a detailed factual report/analysis of the material instead of flashing the imagery at us? Would that be too . . . well . . . boringly factual? 

Then, we had the human drama of it all, wherein seasoned reporters caught hold of traumatized twenty-year-olds and ask them such gravitas-laden questions as: How did you feel when you saw your best friend blown to bits? Ah, thank god for the enhanced sensitivity which lets us be outraged, outraged by what some walking-dead tired-old has-been shock-jock says in his morning mumblings, but allows us to close our eyes to the public dissection of other people’s pain. Thank god, there are reports that that line of questioning is going to be turned off for a while. 

Next, the whirring sound of axes (pun intended) of all kinds, from Jihad-opia (the condition of seeing jihadis everywhere) to Video-phobia and Gun-control-freakery being sharpened up on the news shows, thus Charles Krauthammer on FOX, letting us know that if Cho wasn’t actually a henchman of Osama bin what’s-his-name, he’d missed a hell of a chance. 

Sound bytes and sensations. We can see monstrosity and evil when a psychotic twenty-three-year-old lashes out in madness and kills thirty-two of us. 

Too bad we can’t recognize it when perfectly sane adults calculatedly kill over half a million of them.

Lila Rajiva is a freelance journalist and the author of The Language of Empire: Abu Ghraib and the US Media (Monthly Review Press, 2005) and the forthcoming, Mobs, Messiahs and Markets (with Bill Bonner-Wiley, September 2007). She has also contributed chapters to One of the Guys (Ed., Tara McKelvey and Barbara Ehrenreich, Seal Press, 2007), an anthology of writing on women as torturers, and to The Third World: Opposing Viewpoints (Ed., David Haugen, Greenhaven, 2006). Visit her blog at:

Other Articles by Lila Rajiva

* The Noticeable Absence of Hip-Hop at Virginia Tech
* Suffering from Chronic Shock-Jock Syndrome
* Bunk: Malcolm Gladwell Checks in at the Hotel Kenneth-Lay-a
* Humpty and Goldie: Fairy Tales from Grimm that Just Got Grimmer

* Satan and Sex Manias: Moral Panics and the Mob Mind 
* The Shape-Shifting of a Hitman
* Minding the Crowd
* Plugging the Gaps in the Global Map
* Ruminations on Thomas Friedman, Part IV: Mirrors on the Ceiling
* Ruminations on Tom Friedman, Part III: Look Ma, No Head!
* Ruminations on Tom Friedman, Part II: The Madness in His Methods -- 9-11 and 7-11
* Ruminations on Thomas Friedman, Part I: The Incredible Shrinking Lexus
* Tax Hunters LTD: Hired Duns Take Over Your Taxes
* Golden Goose Down: Was the IMF Involved in Gold Price Manipulation?
* Hanky Panky at the Counting House
* Kartoon-Krieg: Politics as War by Other Means
* Double Standards on Foreign Owners: Amdocs vs. DP World
* Port-Folly-O: Outsourcing Our Own Security?
* The Torture Photos Congress Didn’t Want Us to See
* Axis of Child Abusers: British Troops Beat Up Barefoot Iraqi Teens
* Fictionalizing the New World Order: A Review of Andre Vltchek’s Point of No Return
* How America Kills Iraqi Journalists for Their Own Good
* Two Moms on Capitol Hill
* Operation Romeo: Lessons on Terror Laws from “Injun” Country
* Begging for the Brownshirts
* A Short History of RADIO FREE IRAQ
* What Did European Agencies Know About the Torture Flights?
* The Torture-Go-Round: The CIA’s Illegal Rendition Flights
* The Gratitude of Turkeys
* Rodent Trials Show Biotech is Squeaky Unclean
* Willie Pete and the Theo-logicians of Empire
* Dover Bitch
* Economics Trumps Law in the Neoliberal Gulag
* Coming Out On Hallowe'en
* How to Recognize a Liberal Feminist
* License to Bill: In India, Bill Gates Does Well by Doing Good
* The Burgh, Downsizing
* Preview of Abu Ghraib in New Orleans
* Leviathan in the Flood: Katrina and the Fishy Logic of the State
* The NPT is Dead.... And It's a Good Thing Too
* An 800-Pound Gorilla Goes to the UN
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* Vision Mumbai Submerged: Water, Water, Everywhere, Nor Any Drop to Drink
* America's Downing Syndrome, or Why the Not-So-Secret Air War Stayed “Secret”
* Turkey Supreme
* Witches and Bastards: An Imperial Wizard and a Prescription for Anti-Imperialism
* Playing Monopoly in Charm City
* The Pharisee’s Fire Sermon
* The Ideology of American Empire
* Tsunami Cover Up? NOAA and the Flood
* Iraqi Women and Torture, Part IV: Gendered Propaganda, the Propaganda of Gender
* Iraqi Women and Torture, Part III: Violence and Virtual Violence
* Iraqi Women and Torture, Part II: Theater That Educates, News That Propagandizes
* Iraqi Women and Torture, Part I: Rapes and Rumors of Rape
* Nicholas Kristof's Fox Pas(s)
* Putting Conservatives on the Couch: Transactional Analysis and the Torture Apologists
* The New Post-Colonial Racism
* Eyeless in Iraq: The L.A. Times and the Fog of War