Editor’s note: This is one of a series of pieces commemorating the 30th anniversary of the École Polytechnique murders. Read other Western community members’ reflections on the lessons that still echo – and even on those lessons still ignored – three decades out from that tragic day.
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Draw a line from coverage of the Montreal Massacre to the first Gulf War to 9/11 to today.
During that time, the newspaper industry as we know it – as we knew it – has had its back broken. That has been a bad thing for getting thoughtful coverage.
No surprise to anyone paying attention, but what we’ve shifted to is a type of quick, bite-sized, thoughtless, depthless, surface-only, headline-only coverage that has a real propulsive force behind it saying, ‘move on, get away from that story and onto the next one.’
We no longer have the ability – or even desire, perhaps – to stop the clock when we have a tragedy. We should be saying, ‘OK, we need to take a lot of time now to look at what an event, like the Montreal Massacre, asks us to examine. Who are we as a culture? Who are we as a people?’
But I don’t want to go get all starry-eyed about how wonderful the news media was in 1989 – because it wasn’t. I am not convinced we got the best coverage at the time.
Remember, things didn’t seem things were ‘that bad’ right before it happened.
We were coming to the end of second-wave feminism. People like Susan Faludi was writing Backlash and Naomi Wolf was writing The Beauty Myth, incredibly important books pointing to the fact that the right wing was beginning to identify feminists as bad actors in society. We had Rush Limbaugh to thank for the whole ‘feminazi’ thing in the demonization of feminism.
Today, we see the fruit of that poison tree dropping all around us. Now, the combination of toxic masculinity and white supremacy is bad news all around.
But did we see that then? Where were the alarms sounding in media?
They were not there. Even then, the news environment was such that it had lost its ability to address the underlying sociological issues, cultural sociological issues that brought about this kind of domestic terrorism.
Then the fact it fell off of our radar relatively quickly is telling. If you were attached to the women’s community, it was an incredibly important event. But do not kid ourselves and say it was an important event to all.
Part of that was a lack of a broader, more widely considered view of the story in media. It was a complex story. We shied away from that complexity.
Take Columbine. That was a turning point for the United States in terms of making school shootings into a cultural study. The Montreal Massacre did not have the same kind of impact at all in Canada.
I teach kids who have only vaguely heard of the Montreal Massacre. What does that say?
Tim Blackmore is a professor in the Faculty of Information and Media Studies.