Fairfield University professor spotlights media and culture parallels between Arizona massacre and earlier shootings

Fairfield University professor spotlights media and culture parallels between Arizona massacre and earlier shootings

"Hello, my name is Jared Lee Loughner. This video is my introduction to you! My favorite activity is conscience dreaming; the greatest inspiration for my political business information. Some of you don't dream - sadly."

Michael Serazio, assistant professor of Communication offers his views on the Arizona tragedy:

Image: Michael Serazio Thus begins a haunting video screed posted to the YouTube channel of the young man who stands accused of unleashing the barrage of deadly gunfire at a political meet-and-greet this past weekend in Tucson. Stunning and senseless, the digital context in which Loughner's "dream" foreshadowed Saturday's cold-blooded nightmare offers an echo even more chilling: We've seen this brand of murderer-generated content before and, worse still, it is doubtless not the last of its kind.

Three years earlier, some 5,500 miles away, a similarly unhinged young man named Pekka-Eric Auvinen uploaded video to his own YouTube channel: a montage titled, "Jokela High School Massacre" that announced the bloodletting he would visit upon a Helsinki suburb just hours later. The posting served as postmodern communiqué as Auvinen, who turned the gun on himself that morning, left in his wake eight bodies and a trail of cyber-evidence.

Like that of the Arizona suspect Loughner - and, more so, Virginia Tech shooter Seung-Hui Cho before him - such violence appears not only pre-meditated (planned in advance) but also increasingly pre-mediated (that is, packaged in advance). It heralds the dystopian upshot of anti-social media: MySpace, YouTube, and other such platforms that allow perpetrators to speak "around" old media gatekeepers. As witnesses in the Web 2.0 biosphere, we can only sift through their self-broadcasting for clues retrospectively. Evil such as this has its own megaphone in a destabilized media landscape.

To be certain, parsing Loughner's inchoate ramblings is an exercise in textual ballistics. Yet he eerily strikes many of the same alienated, antigovernment chords as one finds in Auvinen's online manifesto. Both stitched together a paranoia-fueled jumble of political philosophy and both vented disdain for the literacy and intelligence of the human race.

Amidst a series of enigmatic, if-then postulates, Loughner declares, for example, "I can't trust the current government because of the ratifications: The government is implying mind control and brainwash on the people by controlling grammar." Elsewhere on YouTube, he adds, "If I'm the mind controller then I control the belief and religion."

Similarly, Auvinen opined on a social networking site, "Collective de-individualization is a phenomenon where the individual will be trained as part of the mindless herd... It is just done so people will think they are free and don't realize they are being enslaved... But not me! I am self-aware and realize what is going on in society."

Coherence need not be the crucible for evaluating the schizophrenic rants of a homicidal megalomaniac. Loughner's world reads like the call-in transcript to an overnight AM radio show - a libertarian acid trip of black helicopters, currency runs, and constitutional overreach.

Given that Loughner's target was a Congresswoman, the politicization of his act was inevitable, incumbent, and immediate. Yet it also marks the appearance of what some scholars have called an "interactive spectacle" - the authorship and distribution of an online, multiplatform PR package.

According to one account, he posted to his MySpace page just weeks earlier: "I'll see you on National T.V.! This is foreshadow... [sic]" In a networked media environment - and a social ecology of endemic narcissism - any Web-cam amateur cineaste can be their own "national TV." The means are there; horrifyingly, Loughner provided the ends as well.

In the aftermath of this tragedy, we need a more humane public discourse. We need to understand how hatred can fester in the anonymized "information cocoons" of today's Internet. And we need to see this act as something not merely political, but equally a gambit for celebrity infamy. For if the killer's diary was once only available to reporters and police at the crime scene, the killer's video blog is now a much more open book - shooting for fame, deliberately so.

Serazio's research and teaching interests include popular culture, advertising, journalism, and new media. He is a former award-winning staff writer for the Houston Press, an alternative weekly, and has work appearing or forthcoming in Critical Studies in Media Communication, Communication Culture & Critique, Popular Music & Society, The Journal of Media & Religion, and The Journal of Popular Culture.

He received his Ph.D. from the University of Pennsylvania's Annenberg School for Communication, where his dissertation examined the rise of guerrilla marketing. Serazio also holds a bachelor of arts degree in communication from the University of San Francisco and a master's degree in journalism from Columbia University.

Posted On: 01-10-2011 10:01 AM

Volume: 43 Number: 163