(Anthropological) Mimesis, Competition, #Newtown, and the Media

just a few thoughts. this is not an academic paper. just a series of thoughts that i may explore later. 

The ancient sages were correct to worry when they believe that poetry and the performance thereof could have dire consequences for society. I do not want to detract from the role mental illness played in this latest mass shooting, but I do want to note the role we as consumers are playing. Indeed, some of the most profitable movies and television shows are those that in some way take violence and turn it into something less than final or less than serious.

Let me first set some perimeters for this discussion. Mimesis is a multi-talented tool. We find it in science, art, and a mixture of the two, philosophy. Here, I want to focus more on the anthropological mimesis as modeled by René Girard, but with the idea of the meme theory and mirror neurons of Richard Dawkins’ fame. This is where competition comes in at. We are a species that seeks to compete both against ourselves, individually, and against others, especially those modeled before us. Competition is, as Girard has shown us, the very essence of our mimetic nature. Finally, I want to clarify what I mean by media. I do not mean the journalists who tirelessly work to bring us facts and write unbiased stories. What I mean is the media, as in the the way information is given to us, the medium of media.

The cable news fiasco on the first day of the shooting on body counts and the name(s) of the killer shows us just how easy bad information can be passed around. We see this as well in 2000 when the networks had declared George Bush the winner, sending thousands of voters home. The 24-hour news cycle has pushed us to releasing information early, too early, with retractions looking more like updated information than honest apologies. Further, it sensationalizes the news stories. value judgements are made about what the public wants to see rather than what they need to see. This is not necessarily glorification, but when you begin to talk about body counts as numbers and begin to rank the shootings from best to worst the media begins to build a social platform to compete. For a clear example of this, note how this shooter was dressed and how previous shooters have been dressed.

There is an impersonal message portrayed. We no longer talk about the names and ages of the children murdered, but we talk about how this ranks and just who this person was that could do such a horrible act. For example, when Jovan Belcher murdered his girlfriend and then turned the gun on himself, we are left with a media impression focusing on Belcher, not the clear case of domestic abuse. How many know the name of the young woman? We are going to see the same thing here, as well, that we have seen in Arizona and in Colorado, where we focus on the killer as if he is a side show attraction and thereby, we lose our connection to the victims. But, it begins with the need for a cable news network to always focus on stories that will entice the public. Then, there is twitter and facebook where we can turn to for a faster release of information, and a release of aggression. Our blogs, too, fall into this category. We can use all of these social media footprints to combat evil and to release a flood of endorphines. Or we can be careful and urge action through our various platforms and instead of being led, lead.

We have this need to compete. We also, I firmly believe, have this natural part of ourselves that tell us what is wrong and what is right. This empathy may not be natural or all, or it may be, rather, easily directed in some. The Greek sophists knew this. They could take the empathy of an audience and focus it in a direction they sought. This is a power that must have responsibility, the freedom of speech be damned. What happens, then, with someone who is mentally ill follows their natural impulses to compete? What would the mentally ill see? Someone who has gained international stardom, an international focus, and almost fame. Who many of us, after all, will remember the names of the school children — the names of the murdered in Arizona, Colorado — next week but will easily recall the killer’s name, image, and soon, motive?

Of course, there is another caveat to anthropological mimesis, the atonement. We have seen in recent years the rise in these types of shootings. Increasing, it is not one to one violence, but one to double digits. These is the marked increased in societiel violence that will, if Girard is correct, reach a breaking point in need of an atonement.

Before I scare myself, I will turn the floor over to you.

Here are the points, summarized. First, the media floods the airwaves with messages it wants others to see. Yes, it reports the news, but it does so in a sensational atmosphere. Yes, it is our responsibility to control what we watch, but we must also understand that there is a reason why trends develop patterned on tv shows and why advertisers pay the amount of money they do to air on television. We must be careful not to focus our attention on either the killer or how this shooting spree fits into a rankings chart — unless we carefully ask ourselves why in the world do we have such a chart in the first place. Finally, competition will reach a breaking point. It always has, always does, always will.

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Post By Joel Watts (10,113 Posts)

Joel L. Watts holds a Masters of Arts from United Theological Seminary with a focus in literary and rhetorical criticism of the New Testament. He is currently a Ph.D. student at the University of the Free State, analyzing Paul’s model of atonement in Galatians. He is the author of Mimetic Criticism of the Gospel of Mark: Introduction and Commentary (Wipf and Stock, 2013), a co-editor and contributor to From Fear to Faith: Stories of Hitting Spiritual Walls (Energion, 2013), and Praying in God's Theater, Meditations on the Book of Revelation (Wipf and Stock, 2014).

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3 thoughts on “(Anthropological) Mimesis, Competition, #Newtown, and the Media

  1. I agree with most of what you are saying but I don’t think you have carried societal blame far enough. I have stood for hours in gaming parlors such as Dave & Barry’s and watched very young children stare at violent shoot em up games where death is insignificant and glorified and the dead come back to life with impunity. Even though most are not scarred seriously some are. I have little doubt that societal morals are bent by this. Also, cartoons where the children are genius and the adults are more than stupid must affect the thinking of 2 yr olds to some extent. Too many parents pay no attention to what the children are watching and playing. Religious and educational organizations have seriously dropped the ball in this regard. Too many adults are simply feeding there own greed with out regard to there responsibility to others, especially their young.

    BTW, I disagree with your statement that there are unbiased news sources available. We are all biased, even you and I. Some are just better at hiding there bias, mostly via omission as opposed to commission. We offen consider those we agree with as unbiased but that can be a dangerous trap.

    • there are situational biases, beginning with what stories to cover; however, I do think journalists can bring us something of an unfiltered truth to stories.

      And yes, I agree with your on the first paragraph. Plato would agree too.

  2. With regard to bias in the media, for the casual reader or watcher the hidden bias is likely more dangerous than the overt bias that is obvious to most, even though we are still most likely to listen to those that agree with us than those who disagree with us. What I like least is judging those we disagree with by only following comments about them from some we tend to side with. This is where bias gets dangerous I think.

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