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Perhaps Showtime's 'Active Shooter' Can Help Get the Topic of Mass Shootings to the Forefront
October 27, 2017  | By David Hinckley

Showtime’s docu-series Active Shooter has been a good way to put a bad thing into perspective.

The eight-part series, which finishes Friday at 9 p.m. ET, has examined eight of America’s mass shootings by focusing on the good guys: the victims, the police, the first responders, the civilian heroes, the trauma surgeons.

It also directly addressed, with a certain poignant irony, the issue of whether we should minimize the attention that the media gives to perpetrators.

That began in the first episode, which revisited the 2012 shooting at an Aurora, Colo., movie theater during a showing of The Dark Knight. It featured Caren and Tom Teves, parents of Alex Teves, one of the dozen people who died.

The Teveses founded and promote the “No Notoriety” movement, which argues that perpetrators commit these murders to become famous and extensive media attention in effect grants that wish, while making it more likely that other disturbed people will see mass killings as their own ticket to fame in the future.

Caren Teves said she didn’t want a perpetrator’s name omitted from stories on shootings, though that’s a policy voluntarily followed in some countries.

She thought the media should not “glorify” murderers by writing extensively about their lives, or posting pictures of them with their arsenal of weapons.

The first Active Shooter episode included a clip of Caren and Tom Teves debating a New York Times reporter who noted that most people in media get very nervous when anyone suggests they shouldn’t print something.

At the same time, the episode itself named the Aurora shooter multiple times, notably during clips of the psychologist who was hired to interview him and determine whether he was mentally fit to stand trial.

The conclusion was that yes, he was – that he knew right from wrong, that he meticulously planned the shooting and his escape. He knew what he was doing and he didn’t care.

He was eventually sentenced to 12 consecutive life sentences plus some 3,000 years in prison, which means we won’t be hearing from him again – unless People magazine decides to put him on its cover, as it did some 30 years ago with the man who shot John Lennon.

In any case, Active Shooter has not been primarily framed as an advocacy show. Police, medical personnel and first responders have all agreed that somehow this kind of tragedy must stop, but there has been no steady drumbeat for any specific action.

Showrunner Star Price has seemed to let the stories tell themselves, and in the process he has effectively avoided giving Active Shooter a sensational tone. He has let calm real-life human voices make the case that this is, in its own way, an American epidemic.

Hospital personnel and police have talked about the appalling wounds of the victims. Victims themselves have recounted how surreal it all felt, and what details registered as they waited for help.

Active Shooter has also noted the logistics of helping people in the immediate aftermath of these shootings, where in some cases the perpetrator had not yet been apprehended – or, often, killed himself.

That end of the story – to put it in blunt terms, the cleanup – showcases the best side of human beings, in the shadow of the worst.

This whole subject is raw, uncomfortable and all too present. It’s been hard to watch, but valuable, because sometimes we need to talk about bad things – and if not now, when?

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