Mainstream Memory

There’s a video that invariably gets posted to Reddit in the aftermath of tragedies with high death tolls, and Friday night’s attack in Paris was no exception. It’s a clip from English satirical journalist Charlie Brooker, in which he criticizes the mainstream media for their coverage of these events. Brooker points to the media’s tendency to produce a killer-centric, rather than victim-centric narrative as harmful for all who watch it. It’s panic-inducing for the peaceful individuals who only want to grieve, and propaganda for the disturbed viewers who may simply be waiting for a final spark of inspiration before launching their own attack.

It’s easy lay the blame exclusively on CNN, Fox News, and other media outlets who flood our TV screens with images, videos, and trivia about the perpetrator(s). But as one perceptive redditor pointed out in the comments of a recent re-post of the Charlie Brooker clip, “mass murders = better ratings for CNN. Telling a network like CNN how to  prevent these types of shootings is like a batter telling the pitcher where he likes the ball.” The killer-centric narrative perpetuates because we consume it so readily, and then do little to actually challenge or dismantle its prominence.

I was largely compelled to write on this topic, no doubt, by the events in Paris this weekend. But Fuentes’ article for today, on the difficulties of altering and subverting deeply-cemented mainstream narratives is incredibly relevant here. Fuentes writes, “[Rachael Pringle] Polgreen’s story has in many ways been rendered impermeable, difficult to revise and over-determined by the language and power of the archive.” As Michael wrote last week, sometimes the mere accessibility of certain information can work to solidify a mainstream perspective – in his case, the history of Ralph Johnson as a businessman overshadows and overpowers the history of Johnson as a father or a writer. I am curious how this effect plays out on a much larger scale, as narrative patterns – from occupation-centric histories of individuals to killer-centric histories of tragedies – begin to emerge as the ones we consume and remember.

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