I wanted to share these two pieces on the shootings at Virginia Tech. Both mainly address the media response from different angles. As, obviously, the media in the end largely will control how people think about, act on and remember this tragedy, such considerations are very important. The first piece is below, the second is after the link.
And while I haven't been consuming much media as of late, largely to avoid the spin, sensationalism and haranguing, I find this Washington Post page very grounding in thinking about what this is really about.
UPDATE: I should've clarified the sources. I received both of these in emails, but it looks like Nopper's piece was originally published on Azine. As far as I know, O'Donoghue's piece has not been published online.
What May Come: Asian Americans and the Virginia Tech Shootings
Tamara K. Nopper
April 17, 2007
Like many, I was glued to the television news yesterday, keeping updated about the horrific shootings at Virginia Tech University. I was trying to deal with my own disgust and sadness, especially since my professional life as a graduate student and college instructor is tied to universities. And then the other shoe dropped. I found out from a friend that the news channel she was watching had reported the shooter as Asian. It has now been reported, after much confusion, that the shooter is Cho Seung-Hui, a South Korean immigrant and Virginia Tech student.
As an Asian American woman, I am keenly aware that Asians are about to become a popular media topic if not the victims of physical backlash. Rarely have we gotten as much attention in the past ten years, except, perhaps, during the 1992 Los Angeles Riots. Since then Asians are seldom seen in the media except when one of us wins a golfing match, Woody Allen has sex, or Angelina Jolie adopts a kid.
I am not looking forward to the onslaught of media attention. If history truly does have clues about what will come, there may be several different ways we as Asian Americans will be talked about.
One, we will watch white media pundits and perhaps even sociologists explain what they understand as an “Asian” way of being. They will talk about how Asian males presumably have fragile “egos” and therefore are culturally prone to engage in kamikaze style violence. These statements will be embedded with racist tropes about Japanese military fighters during WWII or the Viet Cong—the crazy, calculating, and hidden Asian man who will fight to the death over presumably nothing.
In the process, the white media might actually ask Asian Americans our perspectives for a change. We will probably be expected to apologize in some way for the behavior of another Asian—something whites never have to collectively do when one of theirs engages in (mass) violence, which is often. And then some of us might succumb to the Orientalist logic of the media by eagerly promoting Asian Americans as real Americans and therefore unlike Asians overseas who presumably engage in culturally reprehensible behavior. In other words, if we get to talk at all, Asian Americans will be expected to interpret, explain, and distance themselves from other Asians just to get airtime.
Or perhaps the media will take the color-blind approach instead of a strictly eugenic one. The media might try to whitewash the situation and treat Cho as just another alienated middle-class suburban kid. In some ways this is already happening—hence the constant referrals to the proximity of the shootings to the 8th anniversary of the Columbine killings. The media will repeat over and over words from a letter that Cho left behind speaking of “rich kids,” and “deceitful charlatans.” They will ask what’s going on in middle-class communities that encourage this type of violence. In the process they may never talk about the dirty little secret about middle-class assimilation: for non-whites, it does not always prevent racial alienation, rage, or depression. This may be surprising given that we are bombarded with constant images suggesting that racial harmony will exist once we are all middle-class. But for many of us who have achieved middle-class life, even if we may not openly admit it, alienation does not stop if you are not white.
But the white media, being as tricky as it is, may probably talk about Cho in ways that reflect a combination of both traditional eugenic and colorblind approaches. They will emphasize Cho’s ethnicity and economic background by wondering what would set off a hard-working, quiet, South Korean immigrant from a middle-class dry-cleaner-owning family. They will wonder why Cho would commit such acts of violence, which we expect from Middle Easterners and Muslims and those crazy Asians from overseas, but not from hard-working South Korean immigrants. They will promote Cho as “the model minority” who suddenly, for no reason, went crazy. Whereas eugenic approaches depicting Asians as crazy kamikazes or Viet Cong mercenaries emphasize Asian violence, the eugenic aspect of the model minority myth suggests that there is something about Asian Americans that makes them less prone to expressions of anger, rage, violence, or criminality. Indeed, we are not even seen as having legitimate reasons to have anger, let alone rage, hence the need to figure out what made this “quiet” student “snap.”
Given that the model minority myth is a white racist invention that elevates Asians over minority groups, Cho will be dissected as an anomaly among South Koreans who “are not prone” to violence—unlike Blacks who are racistly viewed as inherently violent or South Asians, Middle Easterners and Muslims who are viewed as potential terrorists. He will be talked about as acting “out of character” from the other “good South Koreans” who come here and quietly and dutifully work towards the American dream. Operating behind the scenes of course is a diplomatic relationship between the US and South Korea forged through bombs and military zones during the Korean War and expressed through the new free trade agreement negotiations between the countries. Indeed, even as South Korean diplomats express concern about racial backlash against Asians, they are quick to disown Cho in order to maintain the image of the respectable South Korean.
Whatever happens, Cho will become whoever the white media wants him to be and for whatever political platform it and legislators want to push. In the process, Asian Americans will, like other non-whites, be picked apart, dissected, and theorized by whites. As such, this is no different than any other day for Asian Americans. Only this time an Asian face will be on every television screen, internet search engine, and newspaper.
Tamara K. Nopper is an educator, writer, and activist living in Philadelphia. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Spinning, Lying and Distorting History: U.S. Media's Response to the Virginia Tech Tragedy
By Liam O'Donoghue
According to syndicated radio talk show host Rusty Humphries, Virginia Tech gunman Cho Seung-Hui is "frying in hell." "I just wish he were alive," Humphries added dryly, "so we could put him to death."
Another ultra-right wing radio host, Michael Savage, spewed bizarre conspiracy theories stemming from the report that Seung-Hui had scrawled the words "Ismail Ax" on his arm. Savage also demanded information related to two other "men of color" who were photographed being handcuffed by police during the raid on Norris Hall. Somehow, he predictably managed to blame Islam.
Comedian/radio host Dennis Miller summed it up by declaring that Seung-Hui "is pure evil." Despite the simplicity of this analysis, he repeated the word "evil" at least a dozen times during a 5-minute segment on Tuesday. He wrapped up by comparing the 23-year-old who gunned down 32 students on a college campus to Iranian President Ahmadenajad and noted that the War on Terror has just begun.
In the wake of this tragedy, the rest of the right wing media echo chamber has elevated two questions to the forefront of their agenda during this time of national soul-searching: "Should there be stricter regulations about allowing "foreign" students into American universities?" and "How can we get more guns into schools?"
The second question is based on the logic that there won't be any more school massacres if professors, teachers, and licensed gun owners are encouraged, possibly even required, to pack heaters in class.
In fairness to the right, conservative commentators weren't the only ones extrapolating wide-ranging, ideologically-based solutions from the Virginia Tech killings. Scientologists blamed mental health industry and lefties blamed lax gun control laws. But blaming talking heads for exploiting a tragedy to espouse their views is like a soccer match tied at zero: pointless.
While the views of the overtly partisan, reactionary media are certainly troublesome, they are mostly just serving up the slop that their audiences want to hear. The shrieking hyperbole of the "objective" media has a much more insidious effect on the collective consciousness of the "mainstream news" consumer.
Nearly every major media outlet distorted reality and ignored history in their coverage of the Virginia Tech slayings.
From the New York Times on down, the articles proclaimed the killing spree on Monday to be the "worst shooting rampage in American history." A few common variations: "the worst gun rampage in U.S. history," "worst U.S. shooting ever," and "the deadliest mass shooting in U.S. history." I'm not taking these phrases out of context. These sensational descriptions were not followed by qualifiers, such as "on a school campus" or "by a single shooter."
The most recent and clear contradiction to this attention-grabbing claim that one disturbed young man carried out the "worst shooting rampage in American history" is the Attica Prison massacre of 1971. Inmates captured guards and took over the prison after repeated complaints about their inhumane living conditions (which included one bucket of water per week as a "shower" and one roll of toilet paper per month) were ignored. In a botched hostage rescue, New York State Troopers shot 29 prisoners and 11 hostages to death. In 2004, New York State finally settled a wrongful death lawsuit with the victims' families for $12 million.
The Wounded Knee massacre of more than 300 Dakota Sioux men, women and children on December 29, 1890 by the rifles of the U.S. Cavalry apparently escaped the memories of the editors at virtually every major U.S. newspaper on Tuesday as well, because I don't think it's feasibly accurate to describe that slaughter as anything less than a "shooting rampage."
The USA Today must have also forgotten about the roughly half-dozen wars fought on U.S. soil when they described Virginia Tech as "the scene of the deadliest shooting rampage in U.S. history."
I'm not trying to belittle the horrible tragedy in Virginia. However, when the media is blatantly recrafting history to create an uber-villain out of a single, mentally ill individual so they can grab more eyeballs, it's not an issue of taste. It's an issue of truth.