The course of history was changed on August 1, 1966, when the United States experienced their first mass shooting on a college campus. Charles Whitman, a disturbed former marine studying at UT, opened fire from the school’s now infamous tower. Thirty years later, people in the community still struggled to move on from this traumatic event, prompting professor Rosa Eberly to pen “Everywhere You Go, It’s There”, which discusses the ways in which memory is influenced by medias such as television, radio, film, newspapers, and even music. Because the tragedy was the first of its kind, the media covered it extensively. She contrasts this with the University of Texas’ almost refusal to remember or discuss the shooting, even closing the tower in which it took place from public viewing, going so far as to refuse entrance to students taking on course on the UT shooting. Eberly states that when tragic events take place, people choose to either memorialize it or try to forget it ever happened, that has a tremendous impact on public memory. This occurs because memories are not just individual, but institutional and cultural as well.
The reason media has had such a large impact on how memory is shaped is because of the way history builds on itself. She notably states that, “Anecdotal evidence about interactions between and among various publics, institutions, and special interests regarding memories of the shootings and the status of the Tower itself as a topos,”(66). Because memories are so subjective, influenced completely by what the witness was thinking, feeling, or focusing on the moment that they sometimes do not seem credible. Thirty years later, public radio dedicated a large segment to discuss the UT shooting, when some of the hosts were likely too young to remember it happening. Calling in was the wife of one of the officers who was killed that day, who said she can hardly bear to think or talk about the fact that her husband was taken from her in that way, regardless of how much time had passed. This is hugely because of the tragic personal impact it had on her life, which goes back to the subjectiveness of how memories are shaped. She probably didn’t know all the facts that would be presented to her in a UT class on the shooting, yet she has a much greater understanding of its impact than Eberly’s young students would ever have.
In the article, Eberly also discusses the horrible ways in which events can be memorialized, using the example of the Charles Whitman fanclub. Sadly, the growth of social media has made this phenomena even worse, allowing individuals with a common sick love of a murder to come together. Below is a Facebook fan page for Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold, two young individuals who killed thirteen of their fellow classmates at Columbine High School in Colorado in 1999. It contains art, poetry, and music dedicated to their memory, insisting that they were the true victims while the people they killed had it coming for not being their friends. The media, though not purposefully, played a part in shaping this perception. As a society, there is a tendency to look for reasons and answers that can better explain why such horrible events take place (often in hopes of preventing them from happening again). After Columbine, first-hand accounts of what these men were like prior to the shooting revealed them to be sad outcasts at the school who often faced cruel bullying from other students. In response, lawmakers and educators alike began a wave of anti-bullying campaigns, hoping that it would prevent students from resorting to violence. Though this did help to give better perspective on why the shooting occurred, one could also argue that it gave excuses for actions that had previously been seen as being without excuse.
Eberly warned against the media characterization of killers as tragic heroes in 1995, before most of the infamous mass shooting we hear about in the news took place, and it is sad to read her article now knowing that her fear has been realized.