Mass Culture & the Public Sphere

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On July 20, 2012 a very tragic event occurred during a movie showing of ‘The Dark Night Rises’ in Aurora, Colorado. A gunman, James Holmes, entered the theater set off smoke bombs, and then fired repeatedly into the crowd. 10 people were pronounced dead at the scene while 4 more passed away at the hospital. With a casualty of 14, this is the largest mass shooting in U.S. history which is one of the many reasons why it was broadcasted all over the world. I learned about this event while I was in Portugal spending the summer with my family. My cousin was actually the first to discover what had happened. He read about the shooting on an online Portuguese newspaper and then immediately told me because he thought that I would want to know what was happening back home.

I do not live in Colorado nor was I even in the United States at the time of the event, yet I was still able to use three types of media to learn about it: the internet, television and pictures. Since my cousin had read it a few hours after the event took place, the article was not as detailed as we would have hoped. So the following day we made sure to watch the news on television to get the full story. The online article was published first and was updated as more information was discovered while the news report only occurred a few times and did not change as often. Pictures also helped shape my knowledge of the event. The image that always pops in my head when I think about the shooting is the picture of the gunman in his orange jumpsuit. The picture was constantly shown every time this event was reported. What makes it even more memorable is the fact that James Holmes is smiling. Usually when a person takes a mug shot they do not smile, yet James chose to which kind of makes the viewer feel like he has absolutely no remorse for the horrendous thing he did. This picture is how we know him so the viewer automatically labels him as a bad guy.

The fact that I received the information through a foreign news program definitely made my experience of this event different from the people that heard it through a U.S. station because the priority was not as high. The Portuguese stations reported the event, but because it did not actually happen on Portuguese soil they did not focus as much on it and it was forgotten after a few days. I can only imagine how the American stations reported the shooting, but knowing that this is the largest mass shooting in the history of the United States, I am assuming it got lots of coverage on every type of media possible.

Contemporary media contributes to public discussion because it makes it possible for people all around the world to learn the same information at around the same time. People tend to speak and discuss things that they have in common and knowing the same information gives them that power. They also discuss things that are relevant at the time which is what television, the radio, the internet and newspapers broadcast. And without people to discuss any of these things, there would be no media because not talking about it would mean they are not interested in it.

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