Assassinations are highly dramatic. There is no way around that, and it’s certainly not possible to remember JFK without mentioning the awful way he died. But this is assassination porn. These programs are encouraging us to wallow in the gunshots, the blood, the terror and the death. Above all, they are elevating the assassin to celebrity status — just exactly what the mass shooters who all too frequently shatter our world are seeking to attain.
Consider this promotional material for “Killing Kennedy.”
It “begins in 1959, at major turning points for both the future president and his assassin. John F. Kennedy ... is in Washington, D.C., preparing to announce his presidential candidacy, while Lee Harvey Oswald finds himself in the U.S. embassy in Moscow, renouncing his U.S. citizenship. These two events start both men — one a member of one of the United States’ most wealthy and powerful families, the other a disillusioned former Marine and Marxist — on a cataclysmic track that would alter the course of history. Throughout (the film), we see their highs and lows, culminating in not one but two shocking deaths that stunned the nation.”
One character enters history by serving his country and being gravely wounded in the U.S. Navy, winning a Pulitzer Prize (however dubiously), becoming a U.S. senator, and running for and being elected president. The other character — given equal billing in this account of a great historical event — achieves immortality by committing murder. We get “two shocking deaths.”
The power of media saturation is difficult to overstate. A recent Wall Street Journal piece by Ari Schulman focuses on research showing that rampage shooters are highly motivated by the desire to achieve attention and fame through their shocking massacres. They often intend to kill themselves at the conclusion of their shooting sprees but hope to get the media to report their names and publicize their grievances.