I was sixteen years old when Harris and Klebold walked into Columbine High School and went on a killing spree. We were in school when it happened – before the media-driven-fear-fest that was 9/11, there was Columbine. Imagine being a teenager watching a school get destroyed…and discovering it’s being done by other students. It was like watching Jaws while stranded on a life-raft.
Columbine is only the fifth-deadliest school shooting in history. The worst was the Bath Bombings in 1927, killing 38 kids, two teachers, four others, plus the bomber, and injured 58 others. The bomber was around fifty-five years old. Most recently, a twenty-year old killed 20 kids and 6 adults at Sandy Hook Elementary School, which was after killing his mother. You have to really consider the insanity of someone planning suicide strapping on body armor.
As it happens, since Bath, there have been 123 notable school attacks. Of those, 20 have not resulted in any deaths and 13 have resulted in five-or-more deaths.
Between 1927 and 1970, there were two attacks – around one attack every 21 years, or so.
Between 1971 and 2013, there were 121 attacks – around one attack every four months, or so.
Between 1971 and 1980, there were six attacks – around one attack every one-and-a-half years, or so.
Between 1981 and 1990, there were nine attacks – around one attack every year.
Between 1991 and 1995, there were 17 attacks – around one attack every three months.
Between 1996 and 2000, there were 16 attacks – around one attack every four months.
Between 2001 and 2005, there were 14 attacks – around one attack every four months.
Between 2006 and 2010, there were 44 attacks – around one attack a month.
In 2011 and 2012, there were 15 attacks – around one attack every two months.
In other words…
We had more school attacks in the last two years as we did in the first five years of the previous decade. Since 2005, we’ve had as many school attacks as we had in the previous 78 years before that. This is…alarming. It was pretty alarming when the number of attacks went up in the early 90s – we went from five attacks from 1986-1990 to 17 attacks from 1991-1995 – a 300% increase. And we just did it again: we tripled the number of attacks-per-year between the first and second half of the last decade. More Americans have died in school shootings in the last decade than terrorist attacks.
It’s good to know these numbers. They’re more alarming than the alarmist rhetoric you get from institutionalized media. I hear a lot of people knock religion for controlling people, but the power of religion has faded a lot since people began industrializing. “God is dead,” as it were. Religion can’t keep as tight a hold on people whose minds are constantly changing – it’s too dogmatic. But media adapts and it’s incredibly powerful. Most of us only get a selection of news that is deemed “what we need to know,” no matter who we are or where we are. Things that we won’t pay as much attention to don’t get presented while things that suck us in and glue us to media outlets get massive attention from that media.
Because news is business. News is paid for by advertising and advertisers want to advertise in places their ads will be seen. So, beyond any other responsibility, news media is loyal to advertisers. And because there’s so much news out there, they don’t have to censor themselves to satisfy those advertisers – they can just be selective about the news they report, maintain what appears to be a balanced perspective, and the only people who get screwed are the under-informed reader/listener/watcher.
It gets far worse. News media tends to report the scariest news most often; advertising also plays on fear, with a sense of “what will you do without this product?” It all goes back to what I said about media power and religious power; people don’t believe in religion out of love of God: people believe out of fear of divine retribution. If the gods didn’t have a Dark Side, no one would worship. So, news media isn’t stupid – they show the scariest stories the most.
And it’s not an American thing. Most nations control the media in their countries. Coupling selective reporting with a dose of fear will all-but-guarantee a steady audience. We learned this back when I was watching Columbine go down. Cable media, the most guilty culprit of these tactics, got its kick-start only a decade earlier, thanks to the War in the Gulf; that rise led to less reporting of news and more commentary on the news that was reported.
My lifetime has been spent dealing with a greater influx of media than has ever been experienced in human history. What would have filled a bedroom when I was in elementary school – movies, albums, books, magazines, etc. – now fit in my pocket. I dialed up a 14.4kb modem but I’m still young enough to know that saying “drove” and listening to dubstep isn’t cool anymore. So I have a unique perspective. I’m of a very small age group between the iGeneration and Generation X, where you’re not entirely sure where to place us. I grew up in a time where having your own phone line in your room was cool; by the end of high school, cool became wireless.
So I’ve gotten to watch the Challenger explode as a kid and see planes hit the World Trade Center as a freshman in college. They stopped showing war like they did for Vietnam; most of my views on war come from rooftops, smart bombs, and drone strikes. Most of the news I remember in my life is the kind of stuff that makes people not want to go outside. Unabomber, Oklahoma city, Columbine, 9/11, Beltway Sniper: my teen years were shaped by the spirit of terrorism. And I learned something about how that fear works.
It all really boils down to fear making people more receptive to listen to what you’re saying. Whether it’s leading you to an advertisement or leading you to think a certain way, fear is a driving force of the power of suggestion. By balancing fear and relief, we are all kept in a state of anxiety by The System. We completely freaked out when the World Trade Center was attacked and swore to never let it happen again. You know: in 1993. It was almost as impactive as the resolve we showed after Columbine – the media screamed about how attacks had tripled in the last decade and threw blame around like a monkey shit fight at the zoo. But look at where we are! A decade later, attacks have tripled again, and instead of saying, “What can we do?” we’re stuck with people arguing about blame and gun control. But I have an intelligent question to ask.
Why don’t all schools have an effective CRASH system? Link intercoms from the classrooms to the office – give the office the red telephone to CRASH the building. If anything goes down, the office locks down the school; sound an alarm, remote-lock every door, and notify the authorities, all at once. How hard would that be for schools to do? How frequent do attacks have to get before people stop futilely fighting over firearm availability and focus on how to keep people safe from psychos?
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