Early Wednesday morning an assailant opened fire in the cafeteria of Montreal's Dawson College. Footage shows students fleeing into the streets -- some of them bloodied -- and police taking cover behind a cruiser, guns drawn. Eyewitnesses describe a gunman dressed in black, randomly picking off victims.
As I write this, the story has only been touched by a handful of outlets, and already a few have glibly mentioned one of the gunmens' haircuts: a mohawk. Mothers everywhere are no doubt scowling, mumbling to themselves "I thought so." In my own experience with the issue, after coming home with a mohawk last summer, my mother sincerely informed me that I would never enter her home again unless I got a haircut. To this day I'm convinced that she was serious.
While it hasn't happened yet, it's fair to bet that a paragraph or two will be inserted into the body of the coverage in every major news outlet sensationally revealing not only the killer's taste in fashion, but also his probable social affiliation to "goth," or some other threatening subculture du jour.
Why is it that school shootings are inevitably discussed in terms of the fashion tastes of the perpetrators? It's not hard to find other examples. Earlier this year, when a 12-year-old killed her parents in Medicine Hat, it was impossible to find an article that discussed the issue without casual comments on the girl's "goth" appearance and her myspace profile that no doubt had her friends grinning and parents everywhere cringing.
Maybe it's just the skeptical impression of another opinionated university student. However the issue is spun, I can't see the relevance of a haircut to the value of the story. Maybe the stereotype is appealing to the general public, and maybe it will drive paranoid mothers flocking to the newsstand (Extra! Extra! Goths kill again!), but I think it's pulp.
Let's take the time to approach the issue sensibly, respecting the victims, their families, and the families and friends of the perpetrators as well. There is no excuse for anything less.