“If not for the media coverage, none of that would have happened,” a man told the New York Times reporter assigned to write a story about the global media presence that has descended on Newtown, Connecticut in the wake of Friday’s horrific massacre of 20 children at Sandy Hook Elementary School. (As we all know, six women—some mothers themselves—were also shot and killed with an assault rifle used by gunman Adam Lanza, who then took his own life.) Since the killings, we have heard many people chide the media for offering 15 minutes of fame to these school shooters; the implication is that if media infamy was not available then these killers would not kill so many innocents in such spectacular fashion. We have also heard that the horror bred from the global publicity around so many tiny children killed in such an idyllic setting will surely lead to long-overdue gun regulation reform. But why must children be the pawns in these battles? Why must the spectacle of their innocent faces and adorable little voices—asking such heartbreaking questions—be the catalyst for much-needed media reckoning and gun control reform? By this point we’ve all had a good cry (or many bouts of sobbing), but now it’s time to take a good hard look at the status of children in our society.
I haven’t posted in more than a week because of my disgust over the senseless suicide of Jacintha Saldanha, the nurse at London’s King Edward VII hospital who transferred a prank call from Australian radio personalities pretending to be Queen Elizabeth and Prince Charles inquiring after Kate Middleton’s morning sickness. I wasn’t disgusted that Ms. Saldanha hung herself—a mother herself, she must have been in incredible pain to take such an action, and no one should judge her pain. Instead, I was disgusted that the media frenzy over the prospect of a royal baby not only fueled these Australian disk jockeys’ callousness but also the media circus that followed the nurse’s supposed breach of Kate’s security. Using the pretense of this future royal baby, we made this nurse feel so consumed by her guilt over the media spectacle that she abandoned two children of her own—a son and daughter with real needs—to a life without their mother. The media spectacle of childhood has become more important than the lived reality of children themselves. I don’t blame “the media.” “The media” is composed of individuals just doing their jobs, many of them parents themselves, as we intimately observed when reporter after reporter choked back tears reporting the deaths of six- and seven-year-olds in Newtown, Connecticut. I blame a society in which the lived reality of a child’s life has become cheap, while everyone profits from the media’s sentimentalization of imaginary childhood. It’s time to get our priorities straight and start protecting real kids and their real families, rather than forcing children into the spotlight only when they symbolize spectacular issues like celebrity, royalty, or gun violence. (I probably haven’t put this very well because I’m really upset. I hope you understand.)