Media, Dummy Variables, Fame, Fathers of Sociology, and School Shootings

21 April 2007 at 4:54 pm Leave a comment

| Chihmao Hsieh |

By now, all readers of this blog are probably well-aware of the massacre at Virginia Tech that took 33 lives. (My own prayers go out to all those affected by the tragedy.)

Some controversies are bound to be re-visited during and after the investigation (e.g. gun control) but others are starting to reveal themselves as mainstream for the first time. Namely, the media itself may be promoting these types of shootings. As one expert interviewed on CNN explained, American media in particular can’t resist the temptation of reporting with superlatives. At one point the massacre was described as the ‘bloodiest’ US school shooting in history. Then some newsreporter inevitably checked the history books to immediately reveal that it was the ‘bloodiest’ shooting in US history, period. And then such reference to records are splashed across headlines. Why? The last thing I want to know if a shooter was stalking through the halls at my university is that his performance measure is based on his subsequent fame judged not only by a body count, but also by a set of outlier-oriented dummy variables.

Perhaps the general term ‘fame’ is less appropriate in the previous paragraph, than the strictly negative term ‘infamy.’ Yet fame is precisely more relevant today, especially in the USA. With today’s communication technologies and the popularization of youtube, myspace, and other media channels (note: my goodness, have you seen the coverage on this?), people are identifying fame as one of the quickest ways up the social strata. Did Marx, Durkheim, or Weber ever imagine that the value of their conceptual distinctions among power, prestige, and wealth could be discounted by a world where fame alone is enough? How about by a world where one can ‘be famous for just being famous’? Likely not, on both counts.

Entry filed under: Former Guest Bloggers, Institutions, Management Theory.

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