I remember as a kid, calling my sisters, and being called by them, copycat. The cause for this accusation could be something as simple as wanting the same snack after school, or as serious as mocking behavior when our parents weren’t watching. Somehow, when I was six or seven, the accusation of copycat seemed, at least to me, a criticism unjust, even if the accusation was true.
(I believe I am remembering actual events, but I may have created some of this later. That matters not at all, because I know I’ve felt this way at other times in my life, and I know how picked on and unhappy I felt as a child.) I think the idea of copying others seemed awful because, in childhood, I was busy trying to become my own unique self. In the face of such allegations, I always felt guilty, as if I had violated some commandment handed down from on high. I felt guilty so much of the time, anyway, and accusations, just or otherwise, implied or definite, were always almost too much to take.
And yet, on the other hand, the thought of being like my older sister in some way carried its own attraction, as well. Imitation is often a compliment — acting, looking, feeling the way we perceive they must feel and look and act. As such, “imitation is indeed the highest form of flattery,”to quote Charles Caleb Colton. Sadly, none of us believed that; the simple act of imitation seemed to be a betrayal, the theft of personal characteristics .
So copycat is both a name and a behavior which feel familiar to me. I am, therefore, sickened by the copycat shootings attempts which have followedthe tragedies of the Aurora movie shootings, and the Sandy Hook Elementary School. I have puzzled and wondered at the reason anyone would want to copy such horrible acts, and I can only come up with one answer. The copycatter wants the same reaction from the public as the original shooter got.
Now, I understand that many cling desperately to the idea that bad attention is better than no attention at all. I ran amok for years in my early adult life, screaming in silence for someone to notice me. I imagine many copycat shooters feel the same way. The news media, print and online magazines, and a million conversations around the water-cooler at work may well make the shooter look noticed enough that some other troubled soul, seeking the same notice, recreates the terrible acts of the original killer. I don’t believe that this kind of mimicking behavior is a ploy for celebrity, although some shooters may believe they will become quite famous as a result of their crimes. I am convinced that the majority of copycat killers have given up any other possible way of getting someone’s attention, and so…
I can almost hear the thoughts of some of these people, “If you won’t pay attention to me when I do what you want, maybe you will if I do what you don’t want.”
How do we, as a society, get a better handle on this kind of behavior? Obviously, parents can raise their children to feel loved and accepted for who they are, not just what they do. Barring this, other adults in a child’s life, including pastors, teachers, Scout leaders, coaches, can help the child develop that understanding that they are loved and appreciated. More of this parental action would cut down on the number of troubled pre-teens and teens, but it doesn’t come close to dealing with the problem.
Troubled kids will always be around, some regardless of how they were raised. To slow these killers, and killers of any age, we as a society must stop the 24-hour news coverage of this kind of crime. I don’t know how to accomplish this, but I think it is a vital step toward lessening the appearance of a killer as someone whose actions got noticed. I understand that, in American society in 2013, we are exposed to hundreds of different words said and written about the same event. Add to this the media’s habit of calling the victims heroes — I can only imagine that someone wanting to copy a heinous act of murder does not see the impact of their crime in the same light as they would if the victims were called just that, victims. I’m not saying that to change the way we refer to criminals and victims will definitely lessen the violence. But perhaps, just perhaps, one killer might be slowed down, knowing that his or her victims are just that — ordinary people whose lives they intend to steal.
One other mixed-up priority in our society is our encouragement of the bloody video games, movies, and television programs we see all around us now. I can quite easily see the lessened value of human life, to anyone who is exposed daily to all that violence. And we, as a society, continue to produce more horrific games, movies, comic books, television shows, and music to fill that need we have created. We are teaching our children that human life has little value; at the same time, we are programming them to believe that they can die, hit restart, and be fine, and so can their victims. I hate to say it, but my generation is hugely responsible for this shift in focus — our parents were probably strict enough with us that some decided they would, “never treat their kids that way.”
All of these different factors, added together, make the act of copying a random shooting, or some other destructive behavior against society, seem perhaps, if not attractive to all, enough influence for some to copy the killer, and try to grab a piece of the notoriety.