COLUMN: Eminem’s ‘Darkness’ goes far in depicting Las Vegas mass shooting, but it needs to

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COLUMN: Eminem’s ‘Darkness’ goes far in depicting Las Vegas mass shooting, but it needs to

Screenshot from Eminem's "Darkness" music video

Screenshot from Eminem's "Darkness" music video

Screenshot from Eminem's "Darkness" music video

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When Eminem released a song and music video, “Darkness,” from the perspective of the Las Vegas shooter Jan. 17, it brought about mixed feelings from survivors of the mass shooting.

The Oct. 1, 2017 shooting, known as 1 October, killed 58 and injured hundreds more, making it the deadliest mass shooting in modern American history. 

The video goes through what presumably went through the shooter’s mind as he prepared to rain bullets down on an unsuspecting music festival crowd from a Las Vegas Strip hotel room. It’s complete with realistic bullets, screaming, a stockpile of guns and even blood when he shoots himself as police close in on him. Eminem and his creative team clearly did their research, as they even included the camera the shooter had propped up in the hotel’s hallway to warn when police were coming.

Different survivors told the Las Vegas Review-Journal they’re glad someone is at least talking about what happened, that people shouldn’t assume all survivors support gun control and that it was hard to watch and crossed a line but also didn’t because it reflects reality.

It’s a lot to take in.

At first glance, it’s easy for the video to feel like exploitation of an event that traumatized a city and the visitors and their families who were impacted.

As a native Las Vegan who covered the shooting as editor-in-chief of the University of Nevada Las Vegas’  student paper, my initial reaction was frustration that someone would not only bring back details of a week I usually wanted to forget, but also use it to benefit their music career.

And yet.

In the little over two years between 1 October and my watching “Darkness,” I never cried about what had happened to my hometown. I didn’t know how to handle intense breaking news every day for a week, and then figure out how a student paper should cover something like this long-term. Like I had been led to believe any “good” journalist should do, I compartmentalized my work and my own feelings. 

I didn’t have a hard time going to talks about the shooting, or reading long reports as news organizations with more resources successfully sued to get them released. I talked about how emotionally exhausting the work was with my staff, with reporters who asked me what it was like to cover something like this as a student journalist and, slowly, with more people I met after moving to Chicago for grad school. Yet I found myself numb. Numb, and finding on many days that the work I had done felt less and less meaningful the more time passed and more communities experienced their own mass shootings. I felt helpless.

When I reached the end of “Darkness,” when we see the back of someone’s head as they watch breaking news report after breaking news report of mass shootings around the country, I finally felt something.

Nothing else over the years truly embodied the sense of helplessness and withdrawal I felt and how much I want to stop seeing news of more of this shit happening every few months – sometimes even more often. I cried myself to sleep that night, and in my own way I feel like I’ve moved at least one small step forward because of it. I can live with someone making money off a video and song like this if it can help people in some way.

It’s also worth noting that the video ends with a call to action, saying, “When will this end? When enough people care. Register to vote at vote.gov.” So it doesn’t look like the point of “Darkness” is only to create outrage, but to also turn whatever emotions it elicits into action. In a cycle where people talk about the need for solutions after each new mass shooting, then seem to stop for a while until the next one comes along – with few changes coming about as time passes by – it’s hard to take issue with an attempt to get people to care.

That doesn’t mean it’s a perfect song or music video. For example, the video did not need to include an actor that looks like the shooter; he does not deserve to have his appearance or name widely available. Even if Eminem’s video only has an actor and never mentions his name, it’s more than the shooter deserves.

“Darkness” isn’t a song I expect I’ll be able to listen to casually given its subject matter. Anyone who may be affected by it should keep in mind it’s difficult to watch. But that doesn’t mean it shouldn’t have been made or even that it’s harmful.