Violence, the Media, and Family: What should the focus be?

Posted January 19, 2013 by Jonathan Baron

There has been a recent media focus on violence, and in particular, gun violence. I don't want to talk about violence, or the pros and cons of a new gun law, or the fiscal cliff. I want to talk about families.

Families are the essential building block of society. Whether our family is nuclear and classic, with all the loved ones present, or a different style with ties just as deep, families are symbiotic and important. That is, the parties in a true family are benefitting both themselves, and the other members of the family, and in turn benefitting society. The words of Dodie Smith come to mind in a poignant and humorous, "The family, that dear octopus from whose tentacles we never quite escape, nor in our innermost hearts never quite wish to," and the more serious but no less true, "The family is one of nature's masterpieces," said by George Santayana.

In the wake of the recent national and international tragedies where there have been fatalities, my mind is drawn to the strength a family can provide, both in times of trouble and in times of plenty. Now, I certainly don't want to point a brazen, hypocritical finger at mass media or mass media consumers, as I myself am a consumer. But the change that has occurred in my lifetime must be acknowledged: that there is a sense in reporting and analyzing news events has taken a decided turn for the pessimistic.

What does that have to do with families though? Well, families are the ones first hit by tragedy. If a husband dies, it is his wife and potential children that first feel the sting of loss. If a child is injured or even killed, it is the parents, grandparents and other close relations that must initially absorb the shock and pain of that harm.

When the media reports on a tragedy as it so often does, we consume it and try to internalize it. How would our family react to similar trials? At least, that's what I ask myself. So I asked one of my friends, "How would your family react if one of your siblings was killed in a violent event?"

"My parents would definitely be heartbroken," he said. "We would lose one of the things that we had all been a part of our entire lives. It'd be like a house losing a corner. Hopefully, we wouldn't collapse like the house would."

And I bet they wouldn't. I bet that they'd cling to each other, those that were left, and grieve. Would society need to grieve with them? What if the death became a national media event?

"I guess it depends on what direction the media took it. They'd probably paint it as a controversial issue and I feel like it would desecrate an event and the memory of a loved one. It would be using our misfortune for the pushing of an agenda that we might not necessarily agree with."

Communities are the extended family. I think communities should, of course, be aware of the tragedies that befall the citizens that are members of it. But should the tragedy become hyper sensationalized? It's probably a fine line to walk, as a media outlet of any kind. People want to read about sensational things, and it's easy to make a disaster a sensation. It's easier than, say, a group of children excelling in math which would probably only yield a two minute nugget of reporting.

Would it surprise any of us to know that we're actually less violent as a country than we were twenty years ago? It's true. We are 50% less violent than we were twenty years ago. I don't get that sense from the media focus on tragedy, and neither does my friend.

To be clear, I'm not making any judgments what a family is or can be. Audrey Hepburn said, "True friends are families which you can select," so I certainly don't intend to limit it to just blood relation.

There's a societal hope that pervades America, and in all likelihood, the rest of the world. That hope is that our families, our loved ones, will be safe. Unfortunately, crimes can and will still affect families, so after I hear a news report of some kind of calamity, I feel the need to strengthen my family instead of focusing on the negative. That way, if anything truly bad and uncontrollable does happen, we can stay together.

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