The Copycat Effect
How The Media and Popular Culture Trigger The Mayhem in Tomorrow's Headlines

by Loren Coleman

Paraview Pocket Books - Simon and Schuster, 2004, 308 pages


Review of
The Copycat Effect: How the Media and Popular Culture Trigger the Mayhem in Tomorrow’s Headlines

Loren Coleman
Paraview Pocket
Books, Simon and Schuster, 2004

Review by Joan d’Arc
Paranoia, Fall 2005
Many people know Loren Coleman as a Fortean researcher, author of books on Mothman, Sasquatch and the Yeti, but many don’t know he is also a specialist in child welfare and youth suicide prevention. In fact, he wrote a book in 1987 called Suicide Clusters and was on the Larry King show discussing suicide clusters long before his colleagues had noticed them.

Coleman blames continued violence in society on sensationalized murders and suicides in newspapers and on television. According to Coleman, the media’s attitude is “death sells.” I talked to Loren from his home in Maine about why he wrote this book.

Coleman tracks a string of events that inspired suicide clusters among teens during the 1980s and 90s. Why a young person takes their life may never be known, Coleman states. But there are underlying social patterns that may help us to understand, to prevent, and to intervene. Indeed, Coleman predicted (on March 18, 2005) that we should be prepared for a wave of school shootings between March 20-April 20. On Monday, March 21, the Red Lake, Minnesota, school shooting occurred. Coleman says he has a “keen sense of trends and forecasting,” and he set out to apply that sense of foreboding to his research in The Copycat Effect.

Is Loren Coleman psychic? No, but he reads human behavior well, and he wanted to use The Copycat Effect to convey just how obvious the hints in the media are. For instance, the copycat effect made him aware that high school coaches may be targeted in school shootings, and that religious cults or churches may have “mass suicides” or “shooting rampages” this spring. He says he wrote Copycat because it became clear that the media can and does trigger such events.

Should we turn off TV and go outside and play with our children? Well, it wouldn’t hurt, but censorship is not the answer, says Coleman. He believes the media can be a positive tool to spread social change. Besides, he adds, turning off the TV is a “negative solution that would only backfire with the youth of today,” who love their iPods, video games and email. Indeed, he admonishes, we must not overreact.

He explains, “Our society has been conditioned to like violent movies with lots of action, to enjoy breaking news with car chases, hostage situations, murder trials and school shootings.” Being aware and informed is OK, he says, but it’s the “overwhelming graphic images that trigger mayhem.” Consumers need to say “no more” and the media need to pull back and be responsible.

Is there a dark objective to this media conditioning? Coleman believes the motive is more overt: selling shows, SUVs and soap. But the result is the same: “the copycat effect triggers violent events in a predictable pattern that follows a media-driven timetable (same day, 3-4 days, one week, one month).” Now that’s hard data.

As far as Coleman is concerned, the copycat effect is real and he has set out to document the causal connections. We all know that violence begets violence, but this is a remarkable book that details very precise connections between violence in media and violence in the world.

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