Friday, April 20, 2007

On not living in fear

I was eating lunch at the student center here on Tuesday, when I was approached by a reporter and a cameraman (from NTV, I later discovered), who, upon ascertaining that I was a professor, asked if he could ask me some questions. I said sure, and he led with "What do you think of the events at Virginia Tech?"

Can I first comment on how stupid and clumsy a question that is? I answered, "Well, other than abject horror, there really isn't much more of a response." Which is true -- what else can you say? I continued, "But I suspect what you're getting at is how those events impact my own feelings of security as a professor here at MUN." He nodded. "I don't think we can live in fear, nor do I think it is wise to barricade ourselves in with heightened security and metal detectors -- not that I think anything like that, in the end, will prevent a determined lunatic from acting like the one in Virginia."

OK, I'm embroidering my answer a bit in hindsight, but that's the gist of what I said. Predictably, in the aftermath of the shootings the second item on the news -- after updates on what we knew about Virginia Tech -- was the question "Are our campuses safe?" replete with man-on-the-street interviews with students. And I'm happy to say that, with only a few exceptions, most responses tended to echo my own. University campuses are no safer or more dangerous than, really, anywhere else, and the prospect of turning them into an armed camp in the hopes of deterring a random psychotic with a gun fills me with dismay.

If it weren't for fear, I think the news media might just whimper and die. Or possibly return to just reporting the news. I see the "are our campuses safe" angle as incredible cynical and indeed irresponsible ... especially considering that civilian deaths in, say, Iraq, in numbers comparable to Virginia Tech, are not tragic bolts from the blue but the daily norm. What are we afraid of?

If ever a lunatic walks armed into my classroom I promise you I will shit myself in terror. But not until then. And were it to happen, I hope I have the courage that one professor had who died trying to protect those in his classroom.


gradschoolknitter said...


Thank you for putting this so eloquently. Being an Ontarian living in the "south" (I'm quickly learning / being told that Maryland is indeed the "south"), and only a couple hours drive from Virginia itself, it's been very strange to see the reactions on both extremes. No matter who you talk to about this, they have very strong opinions about guns and gun control, and the safety of our students, TAs and professors in and out of the classroom. Most days I feel pretty "at home" in the States, at least more so than I did in Spain - I mean, at least everyone speaks the same first language on a regular basis... but this really reminded me that I'm living in a "foreign" country.

Sorry for the long rant, but this seemed like an appropriate place to get it all out!

FanglyFish said...

Well I don’t know what I think about this… I really have 3 emotions that flood my system when I see things like this. Fear. I don’t think you are human if events like this don’t scare you even a little bit. Empathy. Think of the family that lost sons and daughters in the senseless rampage. I could not even imagine nor do I want to.

Anger. Nothing angers me more then the American News Stations that not only perpetuate fear among the populations, but glorify these events. Why replay these horrific events over and over again???…. psssttt… Ratings!!!

My hearts are with the families of those who fell. And my TV is turned off.

queen B said...

My mother was a high school vice-principal and prinicipal; she's recently retired. I remember the first time she told me about a knifing at her school. Dealing with the police and making sure her students felt safe were her first priorities. And several students expressed their gratitude for that.

But what really stands out (well, as a close second to worrying my mum could be killed at work) is when she said to me, "I'm more cencerned about having to face all the reporters waiting outside."

Suddenly her credibility seemed on the line, put there by a group of reporters who only wanted a story.

Sheena said...

It's not easy for the media to deal with these kinds of events. They don't revel in the chance for ratings. They have long, difficult, and often adversarial dicussions on how to go about covering it.

But they MUST to cover it. How irresponsible would the media be to ignore this type of news? Someone has to tell the stories of the victims, and the heroes. Someone needs to try to understand why someone would do this - or how it was allowed to happen. If 32 students are slaughtered, are is the media supposed to sit by, say nothing, and run a feature on the history of fish'n'chips?

Reporters SHOULD be on campus after this, so people like Dr. Lockett, or other students can express their valid views. Discussion is important. It helps us understand the world, fix the world, and just plain cope.

I hate the contempt with which people say things like, "they're just there for a story" as if that was a crime. Journalism is about telling stories, and if nobody told them, this would be an awfully scary world. We'd be selfishly stuck in our own bubbles, uaware of the world around us.

And, don't even get me started on the corruption that would grow in government if there were no irritating reporters watching over political shoulers.

I also hate it when people angrily throw out "just for the ratings." While integrity comes first, if nobody tunes in or buys a paper, then the media can not afford to exist. Meanwhile, would you prefer to watch a boring program, or pick up a newspaper so dry you can't finish a story?

There is quality journalism out there. There is also flashy-biased-bullshit trash. And people should criticize the media, and hold it accountable - especially when it comes to how they cover contentious and tragic stories like Vigrinia Tech. But don't ignorantly throw out the baby with the bath water.

queen B said...

Yes, the media must cover stories. And it would be irresponsible of the media to ignore this type of news. But the first stories that I heard on the news didn’t provide any explanation as to why someone would do this. All I heard was that the shooter was “Asian”. And I don’t think that explains why this happened and I don’t think that’s a story.

Part of the contempt that I have for the reporters who are looking for a story is that there are so many “non-stories” that get in the way of it all.

I’ve been interviewed by the media several times, and it’s amazing how a lengthy interview ends up being a collage of quotes and observations; nobody knows the omissions but you and the reporter. And I wouldn’t be so na├»ve as to think that news outlets and papers don’t have their own agendas, regardless of the political shoulders over which they’re looking.

I also don’t believe that responsible, accurate journalism has to be boring. If I can’t finish a story in the newspaper, it’s either because I think the story is boring, or I don’t like the writing, even though the story is interesting. Even flashy bullshit-based trash can be well-written and even interesting. It’s just not necessarily news.

Sheena said...

I agree with you on many points, and again, I believe people should be critical of media. It's important and someone must hold it accountable.

I simply dislike the view that journalists are blood-hungry fiends out for ratings at all costs.

It's a rough gig. They deal with huge moral questions, find themselves in the middle of horrible events, and work in a fast-paced and high-stress climate.

Most do it for peanuts - but they do it because they believe in it.

Also, unless it's a Q&A or interview show, the lenghthy interviews have to be cut down, or else every night the news would be five hours long.