In the wake of the unspeakable tragedy that took place in Newtown, Connecticut on Dec 14, it’s understandable that people would try to understand how something like this could happen and how another human being could do such a horrendous thing to defenceless young children and adults. Sadly, it seems that rather than really trying to get to the root of the problem, the media has yet again decided to scapegoat a small minority of young people. This is a selection of headlines from Sunday’s newspapers:
“He was a nerd, genius, Goth”: Profile of gun killer Adam Lanza – Daily Mirror
School gunman Adam Lanza ‘a loner’ and ‘one of the goths’ – The Sun
Goth loner was ‘ticking time bomb’ – Daily Mail
Adam Lanza Described As ‘One Of The Goths’ – CBS
And the newspapers go on:
Last night, a troubling portrait began to emerge of the ‘Goth’ loner, who dressed all in black and was obsessed with video games. Other students remember him walking through school dressed in black, carrying a black briefcase. Catherine Urso, whose son knew the killer, said: ‘He just said he was very remote, one of the Goths.’ (Daily Mail) Family and friends remember Adam Lanza as many things — intelligent, nerdy, goth, remote, thin. (Fox News)
I could go on but you get the picture. For some reason, the media seems to think it is okay to indulge in this kind of senseless scaremongering that can achieve little other than embitter and isolate more teenagers. When we use the labels “Goth” or “nerd” or any other similar epithet as shorthand to describe a severely disturbed individual like Adam Lanza, we do nothing more than marginalise and alienate more young people. Being a “Goth” is not akin to having a mental illness. It is a lifestyle choice and says little about the young person other than the type of music they like to listen to and the way they like to dress. And, of course, that they want to belong to a social group. But then, what teenager doesn’t want to belong to some social group?
Ever since the Columbine school shooting, it seems the knee jerk reaction is to label any such individuals as “Goths” (for “Goths” see “freaks”) as if this alone explains their behaviour and motives. The first thing to remember is that “Goths” are not a single social entity. There are many sub-groups within the “Goth” culture, all with different beliefs, styles and tastes. But, more importantly, the main thing to remember is that these young people are exactly that: people. Human beings with thoughts, fears, hopes, insecurities. No different from the quarterback or the Prom Queen, if we’re going to indulge in stereotypes.
And let’s also remember that fears and insecurities are writ large in our teenage years. Do we really want to add to that by labelling these teenagers as would-be killers or possible “time-bombs”? Because make no mistake, that is what will happen. If the media continues to label those who dress differently or listen to loud music as “freaks” and “outsiders”, that is exactly what the teenagers concerned will feel that they are. And they will react accordingly. And if – God forbid – we have a repeat of Friday’s scenario, the media will wring its hands and wonder once again where it all went wrong.