School shooting fear porn? Gruesome imagery used to get people’s attention

Violent scenes of kids running from an armed attacker are publicly applauded when released by a charity working against such tragedies, but what about a fashion show recycling such imagery? Is this fear porn or raising awareness?

Wholesome images of children touting their favorite new-school-year accessory quickly give way to kids repurposing those accessories to try to survive while under attack from a shooter in a new commercial from Sandy Hook Promise. The ad, released on Wednesday, is being alternately embraced by gun control proponents and reviled by gun rights groups – and parents distressed at the rise of sensationalist “fear porn.”

Rather than the usual gun-control narratives centered on ripping guns out of the hands of Second Amendment-loving citizens or “cracking down” on the nonviolent mentally ill, Sandy Hook Promise’s stated goal is educating families on the warning signs that a person might be planning a violent attack. Its website claims that “in 4 out of 5 school shootings, at least one other person had knowledge of the attacker’s plan but failed to report it.”

Gun control proponents on social media didn’t quite grasp the nuance, however, retweeting the charity’s ad alongside claims that it “should play on loop for all our politicians who are against gun control.” Even some opponents of gun control found the ad “chilling and really good.”

Not everyone was impressed by this “trauma porn,” however. “We’re ramping up fear of school shootings when we need to be talking about gun suicide, family gun violence, community gun violence,” one user said. “Fear mongering is not the answer,” said another. 

If showing violence for the purposes of education is acceptable, recycling school shooting imagery for a fashion show was met with significantly more opposition. New York label Bstroy showed off a line of sweatshirts emblazoned with the names of schools where mass shootings have taken place, including Columbine, Virginia Tech, and Sandy Hook, and some of the models walked down the runway with faux arrows protruding from their bodies.

Survivors of some of the referenced shootings were appalled by the designs. “A clothing line making hoodies featuring schools from famous school shootings with fake bullet holes punched through is peak 2019 exploitative edgy cringe culture,” said Parkland shooting survivor Cameron Kasky, denouncing the show as “completely disgusting and shameful.”

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