School Violence and Pavlov’s Dog

Photo by Atanas Teodosiev on Unsplash

If there is anything we wish to change in the child, we should first examine it and see whether it is not something that could better be changed in ourselves.  Carl Jung

Anyone who has been a student in a psychology class will probably recall the story of Pavlov’s dog. Ivan Pavlov realized that, because he fed his dogs on a regular basis, they would begin to salivate whenever he entered the room where they were located. And that occurred when he had food and even when he didn’t have food. Stimulus and response. He theorized that when the dogs were stimulated properly, he could get the desired responses if he conditioned the animals with a certain stimulus.

Since the last shooting in Florida, I find it is virtually impossible to listen to the radio, watch TV, visit social media without references to that shooting over and over again. The reason we see so much in the news is that people are naturally curious and concerned about this issue. I get that. What I don’t get is why we need to know all the details about the shooter, his life history and theorizing why he might have done what he did because he was adopted, or from a broken home or ate a certain type of cereal for breakfast. 
I really feel that the news media are participants in dramatizing and glamorizing the entire event. And before you say that “glamorizing” is not what they are doing – consider the psychotic individuals who view this media circus through a very different lens and how they might be interpreting that activity. 
First amendment rights cannot be suppressed. The media has the legal right to do what they do. This stuff sells and attracts viewers, both sane and insane. It is cheap for the networks to produce and they will keep doing it. I change the channel and keep changing it. About the only thing I can do is listen to easy listening music and even then, on the hour with the news breaks, I hear it again.
A discussion about these issues is necessary and certain coverage is essential. I get that. I am not suggesting that we censor the press. In fact, we cannot. But there are some things that could be done if we had the will to do them. For instance, when someone is the victim of an accident, the name of that person is not released subject to “notification of next of kin”. The press does this for a lot of reasons, some of them are legal, but mostly it is because it is the right thing to do. We don’t want someone to hear that a loved one was killed on the radio along with everyone else unless they are presented with that information privately and allowed to grieve and deal with it in a manner that they feel is most appropriate.
Why do we need to know the name of and sordid details about the killer in one of these mass shootings? Why can’t the event be reported and sanitized of any details about the shooter voluntarily by the press? In the most recent shooting, this lunatic has been covered in every possible way before the cameras and through private video footage that has been shared with the press. And the media plays that footage along with the details about this person’s life, interviews with his friends and much more. Why can’t we report the event and never mention the shooter’s name or details about that person unless the victims request that that information is released? The major news outlets could agree to do this, not as a matter of law, but as a matter of respect for those who have been affected by the actions of the shooter?
To me, the mere mention of this person’s name, prominently and frequently displayed for all to see is not a good idea. It is replayed again and again. This only leads to the figurative salivation by other sick individuals out there. Why not black out the name of the shooter?
These sick-minded individuals may only be further stimulated to engage in copycat versions of these events in other venues. Blacking out the shooter’s identity would require coordination. It would require restraint by the press, media outlets and other social media platforms and the desire to do the right thing. Have we lost the ability to engage in activities that are not entirely motivated by profit? Would viewership really suffer if all the major news networks agreed to do this? Of course, other media platforms may continue to identify the shooter. But maybe, just maybe, this might catch on. What if the tone of the report changed?What if they reported that some idiot, creep, sicko, or other negative attribution were attached to the shooter repeatedly?  Instead of potentially stimulating more bad behavior, we may actually be taking steps to suppress it?
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  1. Professor, I agree with you, but I think you are wishing for a culture other than the one we have. Electronic media are in the business of entertaining that culture, less than real journalism. Collectively, Americans get what they want.

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