It took The New York Times a full two weeks back in 1992 to settle on a scapegoat for the horrific shootings at Simon’s Rock College in New Barrington, Massachusetts. “When his music changed, Wayne Lo changed, and in time two people lay dead, four others were wounded and a sheltering place had become a killing field,” declared reporter Anthony DePalma in a front-page story about the 18-year-old shooter, Wayne Lo, who had arrived in court wearing a shirt advertising the New York hardcore punk band Sick of It All. “As he sits in the Berkshire County House of Corrections in Massachusetts, charged with murder and assault with a deadly weapon,” DePalma continued, “only Mr. Lo knows what led him to turn away from the classical music he once loved and instead embrace the violent, discordant music known as hardcore, and a surly group of students who were equally entranced by it.”
Thus an entire genre of music was smeared by America’s “newspaper of record” in the desperate attempt to explain the foul deeds of a deranged person. “Mr. Lo’s problems, no doubt, go much deeper than his T-shirt,” wrote the members of Sick of It All in an eloquent letter to the editor, protesting the “facile connections” the paper drew between Lo’s taste in music and “whatever psychological collapse led him to the acts of violence he committed.”
If early reports out of Aurora, Colorado prove true, and alleged shooter James Holmes did indeed tell police “I’m the Joker” after he was arrested for opening fire on a crowded movie theater showing The Dark Knight Rises, killing 12 and injuring more than 50, it won’t be long before commenters and politicians draw a new round of facile connections between violent entertainment and violent actions.
It’s therefore important to state the obvious at the outset: Millions of people enjoy violent forms of pop culture every day, from movies to video games to music to comic books, and they don’t turn around and harm anybody. Pop culture doesn’t make you pull the trigger.