Narrative in ‘News’

News agencies rarely depict the news as it happens. Since they are composed of human beings, with desires and agendas of their own, they often selectively edit the facts that they present in order to create a story that will fit their purpose. Here is a very recent, very painful example of this editorial process. A few days ago, a racist white man walked into a historically important, historically black church in Charleston, South Carolina. He sat in on a Bible-study, then opened fire and murdered nine people. His personal website hosted a racist manifesto. He was wearing racist siguls on his clothes. And yet, according to many American news stations the problem is not that he was an ideologically-motivated racist acting in a way that a whole (disgusting) American sub-community approves of, using weapons that were easy to acquire and nearly totally unregulated, the problem (according to people like FOX and the NRA) is that he is a mentally-ill person who ‘snapped’. I hate this narrative. First, it buries the fact that racism is still a HUGE problem in America. Then, it buries the fact that guns (and the ease with which anyone at all can get hold of one) are a major problem. Finally, it supports the (false) idea that mentally ill people are dangerous. In reality, people with mental illnesses are much more likely to be the victims of a violent crime than a perpetrator of one. The Fox News narrative states that mentally ill people are the ones who are inevitably dangerous, and who should therefore be regulated, thus increasing the stigma that a lot of Americans already spend their lives fighting against. But you can see why the mentally-ill make excellent scapegoats for the pro-gun crowd. If they blame every act of violence on a person who is ‘sick’ they never have to face the fact that it is our culture that is burning with the fever of racism. Hierarchical societies are always enforced by power. The people at the top (in this case, a lot of white men) often feel very insecure about maintaining that power (which is why black men are so often depicted as a threat) – especially when, as individuals (looking up at other members of their group), they feel that they don’t have very much power at all. Guns provide the user with the ability to relieve another human being of their life. That is, in a sense, the ultimate power; one that the owner often dresses up as a means of ‘self-protection’. And it is self-protection. It protects, not their body or their family, but their idea of their self and their place in the universe. And the cost of this sense of security is often measured in innocent flesh.


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