The media often overplays tragic crimes, as the desire to boost ratings trumps the truth. During the process of the media sensationalizing a tragedy, a specific agenda or narrative drives the coverage. Unfortunately, when these situations occur, the root cause of the tragedy is forgotten and the public creates a false sense of reality in viewing the case. This is evident in the recent case involving the Slenderman stabbings.
Instead of determining why the alleged perpetrators attempted to murder their friend, the only fact that was brought forward by the media was the role the Slenderman mythos played in the tragedy. In the article, “Parents, Take Heed: ‘Slenderman’ and More Lurk Online,” written by James Steyer on June 4, 2014 (http://www.cnn.com/2014/06/04/opinion/steyer-slenderman-kids-media/) the author takes on every other aspect of the case, except the condition of the alleged criminals. By ignoring the social or medical conditions that may exist, Steyer missed the mark and played into the practice of mainstream media propagandizing a topic. The truth may be hard for some to comprehend, but in reality, a meme such as Slenderman cannot kill, it is the medical and social issues of the perpetrators that lead to the killings.
In this over-sensationalized society, art, literature, movies, and video games play a large role in entertaining everyone, including our youth, and it becomes easy to point a finger at these areas when a tragedy occurs. The Slenderman case is indeed troubling, and there may never truly be a complete picture of what exactly took place on that day. In a way, Steyer is right: there are dark depths that can be found on the Internet, and parents should be involved in their children’s digital presence (Steyer, 2014, June 4). However, there is a lot more to this story than a character that was created as a meme.
In the Slenderman case, the facts that the media portrays are that a character created in a fictional story was responsible for the horrific stabbing. Yet, criminal and psychological experts agree that they would be surprised if a psychological problem did not exist with the 12-year-old Wisconsin girls who allegedly tried to stab their friend to death in this case (Lumpkin, 2014, June 3). It is a sad truth that medical conditions often do exist, and many are well known by the friends and family of the perpetrator(s), but go unseen by the media and the population. Instead, a target is made and that is what society focuses on.
Whether it is Slenderman in the case of this stabbing or Batman in the case of the Aurora, Colorado, mass shooting, there is no doubt society has been scarred and the root cause of these incidents remain a heated debate. However, instead of a sequential investigation of the emotional, medical and social state of the alleged, the media bypassed the facts and created a narrative. Thus, preventing viewers from making proper judgment on why these events took place. By creating a blanket statement of the dangers that lurk on the Internet and warning parents to take a more active role, Steyer failed to take on the larger problems that exist in a case like the Batman shooting (or the Slenderman stabbing).
While there is some proof that violence in media does have some impact, it cannot solely be the cause. In looking at a cross-section of these heinous crimes, the mental state often comes into clarity early on and there is a high rate of mental disorders among the perpetrators (Schildkraut & Muschert, 2013). In the cross-section of crimes covered by that article, three historic cases were studied and in all three, the perpetrators had been diagnosed with some type of disorder that when coupled with violent content spawned the crimes (Schildkraut & Muschert, 2013).
This type of bias is not new to the digital age; for decades, the media has misrepresented the cause of violent crime. This is another area that Steyer missed the mark on. Tragic crimes like this take place during every decade, and unfortunately, the media creates a scapegoat instead of focusing on the root cause. In this case it was the Internet and a horror literature website.
Whether it was the video games of the 1990s, horror movies of the 1980s, or as pointed out by Patrick Joynt, the comic books of the 1950s, every decade and generation have some type of popular activity or topic that grows into a media target. This targeting even rose to the level of a Senate hearing in the 1950s as the violence, themes, and hidden homoeroticism of comics scared an over-conservative society that blamed them on the rise in what was perceived as immoral behavior (Joynt, 2006, August 22). However, in every case and in every decade, legal action against the industries has failed to reduce their overall popularity and in turn, the government and media created a new enemy to deflect society from the root cause of these heinous crimes and taboo behaviors.
The idea of using a tragedy or a crisis to one’s advantage to push an agenda may seem like a conspiracy theory, when in fact, it is an accepted practice in the media and political worlds. According to former White House Chief of Staff and current Mayor of Chicago Rahm Emmanuel, “never allow a good crisis go to waste when it’s an opportunity to do things that you had never considered or what you didn’t think were possible” (Schneider, 2011, January 11). This thought process shows exactly why characters such as Slenderman end up becoming the target for the media in the country. Instead of combating violent crime at the root, mainstream media and politicians in the country work in unison to create a specific narrative. The end goal is not stopping violent crime or determining why it happened, it is to push an agenda or thought process onto the American population, even if a large percentage of citizens do not want to see that type of change take place.
No matter what society does, or who the media decided to blame, violent crimes would always occur. In a perfect world, exposing the root causes instead of creating a narrative could eliminate these vicious tragedies. Unfortunately, with the lawmakers and media caught up being more concerned with creating a target instead of discovering harsh truths that could impact reputation and wallets of their donors and lobbyists, real progress will never be made at discovering a lasting cure for violent crime and the medical and social conditions that sit at their hearts.
Joynt, P. (2006, August 22). Games vs. politics. PC Magazine 25, no. 14: 114-115. Retrieved June 17, 2014, from Academic Search Complete, EBSCOhost
Lumpkin, S. (2014, June 3). Why did 12-year-olds stab friend for ‘Slender Man’?. ABC News. Retrieved
June 16, 2014, from http://abcnews.go.com/Health/12-year-olds-stab-friend-slenderma/story?id=23979903
Schneider, M. (2011, January 11). Rahm Emanuel: Arizona shooting is a crisis that should go to waste. Mediaite. Retrieved June 26, 2014, from http://www.mediaite.com/tv/rahm-emanuel-arizona-shooting-is-a-crisis-that-should-go-to-waste/
Steyer, J. (2014, June 4). Parents, take heed: ‘Slenderman’ and more lurk online.
Retrieved June 14, 2014, from http://www.cnn.com/2014/06/04/opinion/steyer-slenderman-kids-media/