America has a history of letting white male criminals slide by. They are often excused for their “troubled minds“ and their shootings are almost never taken as serious cases of terrorism. We see it in the media: the romanticization of white male shooters on television. As we all know, TV is a constant stream of social images. What we see on TV is often a thinly-veiled representation of what’s going on in our society, and misrepresentation can go a long way in constructing unjust stereotypes and an unhealthy social climate.
A morbid example would be American Horror Story: Murder House, the first ever season of the popular TV series American Horror Story that aired in late 2011. In this season, they romanticized the psychopathic ways of character Tate Langdon even after it was made known to the audience that he murdered 15 people at his school with a shotgun while wearing a similar outfit to the Columbine assailants. In several instances, he claimed to remember nothing of the murders that he committed. When he was confronted by his dead victims (ghosts) on Halloween, he even said that he didn’t know at all what they were talking about. To add to Tate’s self-proclaimed “innocence,” his mother Constance also frequently made excuses for him, calling him a “sensitive boy.” However, that isn’t really what Tate was. In the season one finale, it was revealed that he was fully aware of his crimes this whole time and he was simply in denial, refusing to take responsibility for his actions.
He displayed several psychological red flags during his therapy sessions, speaking of fantasies he had where he “prepares for the noble war,” namely the school shooting that was in fact not a dream nor a fantasy, but something that he actually did. He told his therapist that he didn’t feel anything when he killed those people in his “fantasy” because he was taking them from the “filthy goddamn horror show“ that the world was. Later in the series, as Tate met a girl named Violet and they bonded over how much school sucked for them, Tate opened up about having a dysfunctional family. Here, Tate was shown compassion. The audience, too, is encouraged to feel sorry for him because of his difficult upbringing. He was even romantically described in the series as being “attracted to the darkness.”
The fact that a mass shooter like Tate‘s sociopathic behavior was rationalized and sympathized with on TV is exactly the kind of wrongful romanticization that could mislead people into feeling sorry for a mentally disturbed mass murderer that looks normal (and white, hence easier to relate to) on the outside. It is an inherently toxic phenomenon that we need to break, because let’s admit it, these are terrorists, and not the “troubled young men“ that some national news outlets have continued to refer to them as.