We Americans have a dirty big secret. We love the violence. We hear about and read about it in the media — print, radio, television, online. Violence is the top story on the local and national nightly news on TV. Multiple newscasts throughout the day recount the latest acts of mayhem of local, national and international origin over and over.
If you own a smart phone, you do not have to do anything to get the latest body count. It is automatically streamed to you. We may have become immune to the horror of a violent human death because of the constant barrage of acts of violence thrust in our faces day in and day out.
Violent injury and death have their own vocabulary established by law enforcement and the media. The vocabulary of violence is meant to shield us from the horror, to make the situation so mundane that we don't care or can tolerate hearing about it or seeing its result. When I complained to a local TV station about the way it broadcast violent death, I was told that the newscast had received multiple awards for its style, that the broadcasters didn't write the news but just mouthed the words. I was also told to "change the channel" if I didn't like their style.
The words "killed" or "murdered" to describe a violent criminal act are rarely used on the home front. When a weapon that fires projectiles (a gun and bullets) is used to cause the violent death of another human being, the broadcast favorite is overwhelmingly "gunned down." I have heard this most recently from: Brian Williams on the "NBC Nightly News" and Charlie Rose on "CBS This Morning." It is Jennifer Vaughn's favored phrase on WMUR-TV News 9. It reminds me of the old westerns on TV, such as "Gunsmoke," "The Rifleman," "Lawman" and many, many others. "Gunned down" evokes visions of drama, theater and make believe, not the reality of a life lost prematurely.
"Killed" is reserved for military and civilian casualties on foreign soil and for violent accidental death. It seems that to be killed by another human being or beings in a just cause — Syrian rebels, U.S. troops taming the Taliban — is more noble than being murdered, a victim of homicide, or simply just gunned down.
Law enforcement loves euphemisms. The deceased victim of a violent human act is a victim of a homicide. When there is more than one victim, the murdered or killed become nameless and faceless victims of "acts of terror" and the perpetrators become "enemy combatants" rather than killers or murderers.
The rapidity with which news is broadcast, sometimes in real time, is advantageous to the local community. Residents that may be in jeopardy need to have information. But there is no reason why New England needs to know repeatedly about a violent perpetrator in a movie theater in Colorado, a rogue ex-police officer in California, or car bombs or IEDs in Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan.
The constant torrent of violence fed to us is undoubtedly taking its toll on our subliminal consciousness. We have become more fearful, hopeless, depressed and unhappy. We have to rearrange our lives in compulsory ways that we do not like to minimize our risk of becoming a victim of violence. Has it made some of us vengeful? Were the recent mass killings — excuse me, acts of terror — acts of insanity or those of revenge?
Does the euphemistic elevation of violent crime to acts of theater contribute to its propagation? Doing the experiment is the only way to be sure. Let's have a couple of media outlets decide not to broadcast violent crime that is not relevant to the communities they serve. Any volunteers?
Our professed desire to make the world a better place becomes an oxymoron in light of the gluttony of violence we are being fed.
Robert Perrin lives in Franconia.