In the approach to the fifth anniversary of the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting, last month, Sandy Hook Promise released another public service announcement (PSA) about preventing school shootings. If you’ll recall Sandy Hook Promise is a gun violence prevention organization whose co-founder, Nicole Hockley, lost her 6-year-old son Dylan in the school shooting. In 2016, they released the PSA ‘Know the Signs’ which I thought was clever and effective, but had a few critiques for the video.
Sandy Hook Promise’s new PSA is entitled ‘Tomorrow’s News’ and is even more clever and effective than their last PSA. The video takes the style of a news report, except the report is on a school shooting that is yet to happen. It’s almost dead-on in its portrayal of what happens immediately after a school shooting. Here it is in its entirety.
They do not mess around with this PSA and end up getting you right in the feels, as the kids say.
However, my critique of this PSA is pretty much the same as the first one. Once again, they play up the bullying angle which in my opinion is a specious argument as statistically the vast majority of school shooters were not bullied. My second point is that they should have included an interview with one of the parents of the fictional shooter in this PSA about how they either missed or ignored the signs. Despite these minor issues, I still think this is a video that all students and parents of school age children should watch.
The PSA is designed to look like a budding high school romance, meanwhile in the background there are hidden signs of potential school shooting. It’s a clever concept and had plenty of potential to be effective, but in my opinion it fails to do so.
Before I get into my critique about the PSA please allow me a moment to discuss Mr. Stephanopoulos’ interview with Ms. Hockley. Here is that interview in its entirety…
With all due respect to Ms. Hockley, at the 1:29 mark I slammed my laptop shut and just about pushed it off my desk. Can you guess why? She mentions bullying as a sign of a potential school shooter. This is not a sign of a potential school shooter. This is nothing more than a trope that’s been carted out on the media for the past 17 years ever since it was incorrectly reported that the Columbine cowards were bullied. I don’t think that this is Ms. Hockley’s fault however, as I think the media probably won’t let you talk about school shootings unless you talk about bullying. The bullying that most school shooters supposedly endured was largely made up in their own heads as some perceived slight against them, or they were antisocial cretins who drew the attention on themselves. Not to mention that even if you believe bullying causes school shootings, calling it a sign does nothing for the bullied. It only makes the school look at them as a potential threat rather than doing anything about the bullying itself. The only thing the bullying trope does is give people a rational appearing reason for a totally irrational act by an irrational person.
To Ms. Hockley’s credit, the rest of the interview was on point. She spoke about other signs such as extreme behavior and mental illness, and for parents not to ignore the signs. To me that is where the main point of failure occurs when it comes to most school shootings, parents with the ‘not my kid’ syndrome.
Now here is the ‘Know the Signs’ PSA in its entirety…
As a whole, the problem I have with the PSA is the fact that it’s too stereotypical. This is what TV and movie writers think of when they think of a school shooting. Unfortunately this doesn’t apply to all school shootings. It doesn’t apply to school shootings like NIU or Virginia Tech, and it doesn’t even apply to Sandy Hook.
As far as the individual signs in the video go, there are two that I actually agree with. The first is the postings on social media. A lot of times these kids who are planning to commit some kind of act of school violence will almost always post some kind of hint on social media. The second, and most important one, is the watching of videos about other school shootings. Since Columbine, there has been a chain of copycat shooters that have endured to this day. Many of these shooters are what the internet has dubbed ‘columbiners’. For lack of a better term columbiners are fans of school shooters who consider the shooters victims rather than villains. Cho Seung-Hui was one, Stephen Kazmierczak was one, and Adam Lanza was one. It doesn’t matter that some of these columbiner kids weren’t even born before April 20, 1999, as they still identify with their cowardly heroes. Too many parents see this as a phase rather than a sign of mental illness, as mental illness still carries a stigma with it that some parents perceive as they didn’t do their job well enough if they admit their kid has mental issues. Yet when their kid goes on to slaughter a bunch of innocent people they act like they did nothing wrong. If Nancy Lanza was alive today she probably would have said the same thing.
In conclusion, while Sandy Hook Promise puts in a good effort, and has some very poignant things to say, I think they may need to refine their approach when it comes to PSAs. What I’d like to see is a PSA in the same vein as ‘Know the Signs’ except with the parent missing the signs instead of other students. Maybe a ‘Know the Signs 2’?
(Thanks to Lady Gray for the guidance and the editorial assist)