The Media of Oz: Tragedy as Show Business


Much has been said of the media coverage of the events in Connecticut this past week. Yes, the media is obviously a powerful cultural broker though now its reach into our collective social psyche renders us officially out of touch with the real world; chasing media induced illusion while the real problematic issues lay primarily dormant.

As horrific as this tragedy was, perhaps the irrational reactions are far more damaging and hurtful to our culture; as it points to the unfortunate observation that our enslavement and dependency on the mass media to provide us our news could ultimately mean our collective cultural death.

Everyone has the freedom to react how they choose to any calamity- irrational or otherwise- yet when irrationality hits my life as an educator, our collective wallets, and potentially the freedom to defend our homes as we see fit, it must be called out.

All this paranoia – specifically more police presence in schools, gun/lockdown training for teachers and lobbying for more gun control- over the issue of children getting shot at a school 3,000 miles from my home has my attention.  Though far from a statistician, I know enough of the basics to figure out some basic numbers.

According to the National Center for Education Statistics there exists 98,817 K-12 public schools in the US.  The same center estimates approximately 55.5 million K-12 students each year.  How many students get shot PER YEAR during school? 2012 has seen 24 children killed, a strikingly high number compared to previous years. One has to go back to 1999 and the Columbine shooting to find a number even close to this high, which was a total of 14 in the Columbine horror.

In a typical year, a small number of random shootings will occur at a school though it is typically not the “crazed gunman” scenario -rather two students in conflict, with one killing the other. To conclude, counting from 1999 to present, approximately 59 K-12 students have been killed, or, on average, 4.5 students per year, in a land of 55.5 million students. This means the odds of a child being shot at school, for any reason, would be about 1 in 12.2 million, in any given year. Let’s give this some perspective:

A child is over 16 times more likely to get struck by lightning than to die in a school shooting this year. To provide another vantage point, the CDC reports that in 2008 alone, 1,700 children died from child abuse and neglect in the US.

Yes, I agree that even one child dying is one too many.  Though what are the REAL dangers in society? According to economist Steven Leavitt, one very real danger is the swimming pool -in which 400 children’s lives, per year, could be saved with safer pool practices.

Where is the outrage?

“When hazard is high and outrage is low, people underreact, “ says risk communications consultant Peter Sandman, “and when hazard is low and outrage is high, they overreact.”

Yes they do.

A media consuming society reacts to many things we cannot control, while practicing more responsibility in that which we can control could save hundreds of children’s lives per year.

Though since media and its play on our emotions and our deepest fears drives most of us with well played stories rife with drama, we shall live in a continual state not of democracy or even a republic, but rather a “technocracy” where our technological media is our capitalist king and we are the complying masses willing to be wooed by our King’s court jesters.

We are collectively rendered out of touch and now even the most ardent media critic and foe must suffer, alongside the masses , the consequences of continued media driven irrationality.