Mimsy Were the Borogoves

Editorials: Where I rant to the wall about politics. And sometimes the wall rants back.

Showboat media and showboat killers

Jerry Stratton, July 11, 2018

Time-Life Assassins cover

I’m not sure how you would design a cover to play more to the narcissism of showboat killers.

This is a near-perfect example of how difficult it is to stop incentivizing showboat killers. This is why they plan and perform their over-the-top crimes: because it works. There are a handful of people right now, thinking about this Time-Life cover, seriously planning out how to top one of the pictured assassins, to get their face and name on the cover of the next special to succumb to the showboat killers’ gambit.

As I wrote earlier, inciting killers in this manner shouldn’t be illegal. It ought to be beyond the boundaries of what any sane editor would publish. Much of our problems today are not something that better laws can fix; they require more introspection on the part of the media and politicians.

It’s another example of how the Topper mentality (to steal from Dilbert) absent any sense of responsibility is not just indirectly dangerous to the public discourse, but also directly dangerous. Time-Life didn’t put out this cover and special because it’s in the public interest; they designed it specifically to be more edgy, more offensive, to break more boundaries than their past offerings. This special did not need to be presented this way to report news nor to explain history, not even news or history on this topic—they could, after all, have focused on the results rather than on the perpetrators. They wrote this special and led with this cover for the same reason showboat killers keep trying to top each other: they did it to become news.

The only thing worse than being talked about for having incited a showboat killer is not being talked about at all.

And of course it works, because unlike showboat killings, there’s no way to talk about how this cover works to create more showboat killings without talking about the cover itself. The egregiousness of this cover can’t be explained in words as well as it can be seen, in its blood-red cover and glamorizing head shots. It seems designed specifically to play to the narcissism of potential showboat killers.

There’s a lot of argument, and has been for decades, about whether or not violent media incites violence. But there’s no question that showboat media incites showboat violence. What we’re going to do about it, I have no idea. I’m not going to buy this issue. But there are enough people fascinated by showboat killers—look at the reaction to the Boston bombers (who also got a cover, on Rolling Stone)—that this issue will sell.

If we’re going to stop showboat killings, we have to find some way to break this most vicious of cycles.

In response to The Vicious Cycle of Mass Murders: We now know what went wrong. Let’s ignore the ghouls on Facebook and fix it.

  1. <- Showboat killers