Originally this post was going to be about something else—perhaps a discussion of the screen in video games as a boundary object in the realm of imagination, or some other equally urgent topic. However, as I’m sure was the case for a lot of people, the horrific events that occurred in Colorado on Friday got me thinking about other, more somber things.

Police tape blocks off a movie theater in Aurora, Colorado, where a gunman attacked movie goers on July 20, 2012.
(Credit: Thomas Cooper/Getty Images)

First of all, whenever a tragedy like this happens, I’m always struck by how completely it dominates the media. During the days and weeks afterward, torrents of analysis wash over us as talking heads rehash every moment of the event in excruciating detail. As each incremental bit of new information is uncovered, the reporters and pundits absorb it immediately into their continuously-streaming narrative of the tragedy, doing so with a zealotry that can’t help but come across as macabre. (Don’t worry, the irony of me contributing to the avalanche of press by complaining about it is not lost on me.)

A generous person might say that the media frenzy isn’t about ratings and morbid curiosity, but rather that it’s about getting people the information they need to process this tragedy and perhaps find some closure. I understand that a lot of people need someone or something to blame, because answers like “there are insane and dangerous people in the world” and “shitty things just happen sometimes” don’t really cut it. However, the problem I have with this approach is that everything I see or hear or read about an event like this makes the whole thing seem more surreal and detached from the human experience, not less. I’m not sure if this is true for the family, friends, and community of the victims, or if they’re to busy grieving to watch Fox News. Regardless, I can’t imagine that all of this coverage really helps them or anyone else all that much.

Perhaps part of the problem is that like most of the people I know—and like most of the people talking at me from the television—there is very little in my life experience that allows me to understand this kind of reality in any tangible way. I don’t know anyone who has ever been murdered, or anyone who has murdered someone else. I’ve never killed anyone myself, at least not that I know about. I’ve never fought in a war or engaged in mortal combat with another person. In fact, I’ve been in very few life-or-death situations of any sort, and most of these were pretty firmly under my control. Pretty much every experience I could potentially use to begin to comprehend something like this has been absorbed through a screen in the form of television, movies, and video games, and nearly all of it has been fiction.

Of course, I’m not complaining about this state of affairs; ultimately it’s a good thing that I don’t have a more intuitive understanding of how to cope with the fallout from a mass murder. However, a barrage of media analysis coming from people who probably don’t have much more perspective on these matters than I do doesn’t provide much insight either.

Eventually, once the dust settles a bit, people will really start to dig for the “cause” of this tragedy. Discussions will ensue regarding family values, mental illness, gun control, the perils of life in a free society, and a host of other issues. Video games and other violent media will enter the conversation, as they always do. Perhaps some reactionary legislation will be passed regarding sequels for movie franchises based on comic books—stranger things certainly have happened.

People will continue to talk about this terrible event for years to come, while still thinking about the ones like it that happened in the past, and dreading the next one like it which will inevitably happen at some point in the future. My point is that whether we’re the man on the street, a television personality, or just some jackass posting his ramblings on the Internet, those of us who have so little perspective on these matters would do well to remember that.

What Do You Think?