Commentary on killings draws strength through repetition

A satirical website is responsible for one of the starkest commentaries on mass killings, and it draws its power through repetition.

After the Texas church shooting this week, The Onion posted for the sixth time a variation of the same article headlined: “‘No Way to Prevent This,’ Says Only Nation Where This Regularly Happens.”

The article changes datelines — this time it was Sutherland Springs — and a few details to reflect which tragedy was most recent. But its centerpiece quote, each time from a different fictitious person, remains the same.

COMPLETE COVERAGE: Sutherland Springs church shooting

This week’s post: “This was a terrible tragedy, but sometimes these things just happen and there’s nothing anyone can do to stop them,” said Kansas resident Britt Mulvanos, echoing sentiments expressed by tens of millions of individuals who reside in a nation where over half of the world’s deadliest mass shootings have occurred in the past 50 years and whose citizens are 20 times more likely to die of gun violence than those of other developed nations. “It’s a shame, but what can we do? There really wasn’t anything that was going to keep this individual from snapping and killing a lot of people if that’s what they really wanted.”

The Onion’s editors wouldn’t talk about the article. But the fifth version, written after the massacre at a country music concert in Las Vegas last month, was the most-read piece on the site in October, a company spokesman said.

“It certainly gets people’s attention,” said Avery Gardiner, co-president of the Brady Campaign & Center to Prevent Gun Violence.

The first time the piece was posted was in May 2014, after six people were killed in Isla Vista, an unincorporated community near the campus of the University of California, Santa Barbara.

The Onion piece shares with television comics John Oliver and Trevor Noah an ability to point out absurdities at the heart of an issue, said Kyle Pope, editor and publisher of the Columbia Journalism Review.

“Mainstream journalism has a hard time figuring out how to convey that,” Pope said. “They step into that, and they do it very effectively.”

Indeed, a weariness seeps into traditional reporting of such events with the realization that there will likely be no legislative response. An effort to ban bump stocks, a device that increases the lethality of semi-automatic rifles, seemed to dissipate quickly following the Las Vegas shooting.

On such occasions, nontraditional storytelling forms tend to stand out within mainstream journalism, Pope said. He noted how The New York Times used graphics and cellphone video on its website to convey the scope and horror of the Las Vegas killing.

The story angles, the follow-ups, otherwise start to feel the same — a point the Onion makes with its fill-in-the-numbers repeats.

Only the time frame of the statistic quoted changes with the conclusion of each Onion posting: “At press time, residents of the only economically advanced nation in the world where roughly two mass shootings have occurred every month for the past eight years were referring to themselves and their situation as “helpless.”

Reader Comments ...

Next Up in Local

Texas special education chief fired after questioning no-bid contract
Texas special education chief fired after questioning no-bid contract

The state’s new director of special education was fired Wednesday, one day after she filed a federal complaint claiming the Texas Education Agency wrongly entered into a $4.4 million, no-bid contract with a Georgia company to analyze private records for children with disabilities. Laurie Kash asked the U.S. Department of Education’s Office...
Don’t forget safety while shopping on Black Friday, police say
Don’t forget safety while shopping on Black Friday, police say

Holiday shopping mania can make it easy to forget some common-sense rules to keep you and your belongings safe. Austin and Sunset Valley police recommend these tips before hitting the stores on Black Friday: 1. Remove valuables from view: After a successful shopping run, you should place and secure all holiday packages in your trunk, away from prying...
Federal judge tosses out Texas abortion law
Federal judge tosses out Texas abortion law

For the third time this year, a federal judge has tossed out an abortion-related regulation in Texas — this time a law that bans a common type of second-trimester abortion unless doctors first employ an added procedure to ensure fetal demise. In a ruling issued Wednesday afternoon, U.S. District Judge Lee Yeakel of Austin said the law requires...
3 semis crash in Northeast Austin, cause closure on I-35

NORTHEAST AUSTIN 3 semis crash, cause closure on I-35 Three semis were involved in a collision in Northeast Austin on Wednesday, forcing authorities to briefly shut down the southbound lanes of Interstate 35 near the U.S. 290 interchange north of 51st Street on one of the busiest road travel days of the year. Diesel fuel spilled onto the roadway after...
Surprised by Austin SWAT near your home? It’s for safety, police say
Surprised by Austin SWAT near your home? It’s for safety, police say

When Austin police SWAT officers deploy, they can look intimidating. Team members wear beefed-up ballistic vests and armor, and they carry specialized weapons beyond what patrol officers typically carry. They roll into neighborhoods in armored vehicles, surround houses and block off streets, often prompting confused neighbors to call the media or seek...
More Stories