DBC Pierre’s "Vernon God Little" and the Influence of Mass Media

Term Paper, 2020

25 Pages, Grade: 2,0



Table of Contents

1. Introduction

2. Topic Analysis
2.1. The influence of mass media on the protagonist Vernon
2.2 Strategies and techniques of mass media to manipulate the public opinion
2.3 Sensationalism in Vernon God Little

3. Didactic Analysis

4. Conclusion

5. Works cited

6. Appendix
6.1 Lesson plan
6.2 Worksheet A
6.2 Worksheet B
6.3 Possible ideas and suggestions of the students

1. Introduction

In modern cultures, media have become an important part of society. Through digitalization the number of broadcasting services, such as TV channels, has been increasing over the last decades. As a result of this change, their apparent emphasis on competition and commercialism, rather than quality has been heavily criticized (cf. Oakland 2016: 324). The critiques refer to the (in-)dependence of services, the thin line between freedom of speech, the degradation of and talking down to people, etc.

This term paper deals with the topic of mass media in the novel Vernon God Little by DBC Pierre. The novel thematizes the following issues. Firstly, the overall importance of media (especially TV) in modern societies is discussed, including how it influences people’s attitudes, values etc. Secondly, it depicts different problems in journalism and how exaggeration and lies potentially influence someone’s opinion and even the judicial system. Thirdly, the novel serves as one example of how true crime and the reporting of it is part of the public ‘entertainment’ and how people make use of someone else’s tragedy.

Concerning the novels history, Vernon God Little is often linked to the Columbine High School massacre in 1999, the coverage of which made the media and journalism the focus of worldwide critique. The AZ (Aargauer Zeitung) even goes so far as to call the international reporting after the shooting “the mother of all school massacres” and makes it responsible for the significant increase in shootings after 1999 (cf. https://amp.aargauerzeitung.ch).

This term paper is particularly concerned with the question of through which techniques and in which ways the inhabitants of Martirio (the hometown of the protagonist Vernon) are influenced by mass media and news reports. It provides a topic analysis, which is divided into three sections: The first part deals with the influence of media and TV on the worldview and attitudes of Vernon. The second part uses text passages to examine which mass media techniques have a subtle influence on public opinion. In the last part of the topic analysis, the topic "tragedy as entertainment" and sensationalism is discussed in more detail.

The second part of this term paper consists of a didactic analysis of a lesson at a school or university. The aim of the lesson is to make the students aware of the importance and core issues of media literacy. This lesson was already taught at the University Koblenz-Landau in module 8.2 “Teaching Literature: Adolescence” on December 11, 2019.

2. Topic Analysis

Vernon God Little tells the story of a 16-year-old boy who is blamed for the murder of 16 schoolmates and several others. In his novel, DBC Pierre not only criticizes society but also media and modern journalism.

In the novel, the enormous impact of media is highlighted through the influence of TV shows and reports on people’s worldviews, opinions, lifestyles and morality. The impact of mass media in the novel can be primarily seen in how they formed Vernon’s world view and how the media try to make him responsible for the shootings by shaping the public opinion about him.

2.1. The influence of mass media on the protagonist Vernon

Through reading the novel, the reader immediately realizes that the protagonist Vernon’s thoughts and actions are deeply shaped by television and movies. He is apparently incapable of distinguishing between them and real-world events, such as in the following passage:

“I walk up the boulevard until I find a phone. I don't know if it's like TV, where you can call anybody collect, from anywhere” (Pierre 2014: 282).

The reader comes to the immediate realization that that “the social reality presented in the novel is almost entirely mediatised, primarily by television. Vernon’s mother and her friends are forever gathered round the television, gossiping about what they see and framing their view of the world in response to it” (Carroll and Hansen 2014: 79). Vernon thinks that TV-movies are a depiction of reality: “Anyway, pimps are already an accepted thing these days, check any TV-movie” (Pierre 2014: 202).

Sometimes Vernon thinks that he plays a part in his own TV-movie, for example: “I lay on the bunk and imagine this tune playing at a Greyhound terminal. In the TV-movie of my life, I'd be the crusty, mixed-up kid, all rugged and lonely, older than my years; dragging long shadows to hop a bus out of town, a bus with Mexico written on it” (ibid. 92).

It is evident that DBC Pierre makes Vernon constantly compare things to TV movies and shows to draw special attention to their outstanding, often subconscious impact. Vernon is not aware of the fact that “what the mass media gives us is a selected view of the world, which is always given to us a from a certain perspective and angle. Hence, the mass media does not present the world, but rather gives a representation of it” (Longhurst et al. 2008: 50).

Many references to popular culture, for example different movies, can be found throughout the book. A movie that is frequently referred to is the 1984 film Against All Odds. Vernon is deeply inspired by this movie as he dreams of a future life in a beach house in Mexico with his crush Taylor Figueroa:

You just know the justice system ain't set up for folk like me. It's set up for more obvious folk, like you see in movies. Nah, if the facts don't arrive today, if everybody doesn't apologize and send me home, I'll jump bail and run over the fucken border. Against All Odds. I'll vanish into the cool of tonight, see if I fucken don't, hum cross-country with the moths, with my innocent-headed learnings and my ole panty dreams (ibid. 81).

Through movies and TV shows, Vernon has learned that in the end truth always wins, an attitude that he holds throughout the novel:

“Anyway, whoever points a finger at me, just for being a guy's friend, has some deep remorse coming. Tears of fucken regret, when the truth comes marching in. And it always comes, you know it. Watch any fucken movie” (ibid. 58).

However, in the course of events, Vernon comes to realize that movies and TV shows aren’t necessarily a depiction of actual reality. He understands that movies simulate reality, but not vice versa:

Where TV lets you down, I'm discovering, is by not convincing you how things really work in the world. Like, do buses stop anywhere along the road, to pick up any kind of asshole, or do you have to be at a regular bus stop? You see plenty of movies where some crusty dude stops a bus in the middle of the desert or something. But maybe that only applies in the middle of the desert. Or maybe only the drivers who saw those movies will stop (ibid. 221).

2.2 Strategies and techniques of mass media to manipulate the public opinion

In the novel, the TV media, albeit unjustly, try to find a scapegoat for the killings of Jesus Navarro and other crimes to satisfy people's need for “justice”. The search for a scapegoat is their main focus, while logic and morality are cast aside. The constant focus of Martirio´s inhabitants on television and media and them being heavily influenced by those ultimately leads to the manifestation of Vernon God Little as a scapegoat for all evil without solid evidence.

Vernon is aware of this phenomenon and tries to explain the matter to his psychiatrist Dr. Goosens:

‘Why do you think they might be doing that?’

‘They need a skate-goat, they want to hang somebody high.’

‘A scapegoat? You feel something intangible caused the tragedy?’

‘Well, no, I mean–my friend Jesus ain’t around, in person, to take any blame. He did all the shooting, I was just a witness, not even involved at all’ (ibid. 101-102).

The media is personified in the villain of the novel named Eulalio Ledesma, who not only seduces Vernon’s mother to get into Vernon’s family and later sets him up as the villain in his news reports but also manipulates many other characters through a smart choice of rhetoric:

‘Don't underestimate your general public, Vern–they want to see justice being done. I say give them what they want.’

‘But, like–I didn't do anything.’

‘Tch, and who knows it? People decide with or without the facts–if you don't get out there and paint your paradigm, some-one'll paint it for you’ (ibid. 54).

The allegedly exclusive information he gathers about Vernon’s involvement in the shootings is the starting point of his career. Thus, through strategies of twisting facts and simply lying, a completely exaggerated picture of Vernon is painted in news reports on the TV:

‘To his neighbors, Vernon Gregory Little seemed a normal, if somewhat awkward teenager, a boy who wouldn't attract attention walking any downtown street. That is–until today.’ Lush pictures fill the screen, of crime-scene tape dancing under a blackened sky, body-bags punctuating drag-marks of blood, moist ladies howling pizza-cheese bungees of spit. Then a school photo of me, grinning. ‘I definitely saw changes in the boy,’ says George Porkorney. […] ‘His shoes got more aggressive, he insisted on one of those skinhead haircuts …’ ‘I know,’ says Betty in back. […] but he seemed like such a regular kid’ (ibid. 87-88).

Here, the impact of media on people’s perspectives and opinions can be explained. In this news report, through clever timing of words and pictures, the image of a typical school shooter is evoked. An essential quality of us humans is that we compare new data to pictures that we already have in our minds and thus often pre-interpret events happening around us to facilitate our operations (cf. Ryan 2010: 127). This ultimately leads to false interpretations that are based on our past experiences (cf. ibid. 127-128); an example for that is that George Pokorney wrongly creates a connection between an unimportant factor such as Vernon’s haircut and the fact that he is held responsible for a school shooting.

In the novel, a theory about the influence of media on the consumer can be proven: The mere insertion of a certain idea into a news broadcast will not necessarily lead to the adaptation of this idea through the audience (cf. ibid. 124). However, if a certain way of portraying events is repeatedly and consistently relied on, it is expected that people that watch that news repeatedly will be impacted in their attitudes and beliefs and thus will have a limited perspective on events. (cf. ibid. 124)

The constant mentioning of Vernon in media reports ultimately leads to him being held responsible for all crimes in Martirio, even for those to which it is obvious that he has no connection.

As a result of all the so called “facts” presented in Eulalio’s news reports, nobody seems to believe in Vernon’s innocence anymore, not even his own mother. Her “defense” rather sounds like an excuse, simply because Vernon is her son, and therefore she “should not judge him”:

Lally sits beside her on my bed, cranking his brow into a sympathetic A-frame. ’As Vernon's mother, would it now be fair to number you among the victims of this tragedy?’ ’Well, I guess I am a victim.’ […]'Yet you maintain Vernon's innocence?’ ’Oh God, a child is always innocent to his mother–well even murderers are loved by their families you know’ (Pierre 2014: 88-89).

Another example of how news reports can deeply influence the consumer’s point of view can be found in the following passage, when Eulalio Ledesma claims that Vernon murdered the detention officer Barry Gurie:

Lally enters the frame, walking towards the camera. His arm is in a sling. ‘I was lucky to escape the scene. With a broken collarbone, and serious cuts and bruises, I can only be thankful I was here to witness a crime that dispels all doubt as to the cause of recents events in Martirio.’ (…) ‘Barry Enoch Gurie was not so lucky. His body fell less than a hundred yards from the practice range of Martirio’s elite new SWAT team–a team he was to have joined only hours after he was brutally gunned down with his own weapon.’ A picture appears of Barry as a cadet, shiny-eyed, hoping blindly into the future behind the camera lens. Lally returns with a deeper scowl. ‘I was an unfortunate witness to the shots, shots that cut short the life of a man who overcame childhood autism to become a glowing star in law management, an officer described by colleagues and townsfolk alike as a true human being. As federal forces descend upon the stricken district, attention now turns to the whereabouts of confirmed killer Vernon Gregory Little …’ (ibid. 246-247)

To analyze this passage, it is important to distinguish between the terms “narrative”, “subject” and “object”. The subject of the narrative, the storyteller, is Eulalio Ledesma and the object of his story narrative is Vernon. The narrative, meaning “the distribution of information over and across paragraphs arranged in a certain order“ (cf. Ryan 2010: 125) plays a major role in aligning the viewer with Eulalio Ledesma and Barry Gurie, for example through the explicit use of evaluative vocabulary such as “brutally“ (cf. Pierre 2014: 247). Before the first mention of the object Vernon, several other strategies for aligning the viewer with the subjects are being employed; the showing of a picture of Barry Gurie as a young cadet that still has his whole life ahead of him and the explanation that he overcame childhood autism and became “a star in law management“ (cf. ibid. 247) have the objective of making the viewers pity him. At the end of the passage, a concrete example of fake news can be found; Vernon is described as a “confirmed killer” (cf. ibid. 247), although there is no confirmed evidence for this statement.

This passage displays how powerful media are because ideas inspiring action are conveyed through the coordinated selection of words and images (cf. Ryan 2010: 123). The perspective of the person or news company reporting the story has great influence. It is responsible for framing the events by defining the boundaries of a story; certain information can be included or excluded (cf. ibid. 126). In this passage, unnecessary (at least for the course of the story) information about Barry Gurie’s youth is deliberately included to create negative emotions towards the suspect Vernon. First, Barry’s accomplishments as a police officer, a “hero”, are highlighted, just to contrast him with the anti-hero portrayed through Vernon.

2.3 Sensationalism in Vernon God Little

Besides sharing information, the portrayal of true crime on TV, here the murder of numerous people, functions as pure entertainment for the people in and around Martirio. Not only do the media trace the development of Vernon’s trial, they even turn it into some sort of “event”. For the connection between true crime and sensationalism, Wiltenburg mentions two widespread assumptions that can be transferred to the boy’s story: Firstly, sensationalism “is essentially a commercial product, built on the exploitation of modern mass media“ and secondly, “it appeals to a basic thought depraved human taste for gore“ (2004: 1387):

The front of the courthouse has turned into the Astrodome, with camera and light towers, and live studios with National Personalities on them. Then there are catering wagons, hot-dog stands, power trucks, make-up trucks. T-shirt stands, lapel-pin stands, balloon sellers (Pierre 2014: 303-304).

Even in his death row cell, Vernon is not spared from the barbaric sensationalism and use of his desperate situation. Eulalio, who presents himself as a journalist that is allegedly only interested in telling the “truth” and also as a defender of American values such as democracy, does in fact only try to push his personal career as a reporter:

‘Exactly. And we’re not just talking executions here–were talking the ultimate reality TV, where the public can monitor, via cable or internet, prisoners' whole lives on death row. They can live amongst them, so to speak, and make up their own minds about a convict's worthiness for punishment. Then each week, viewers across the globe can cast a vote to decide which prisoner is executed next. It's humanity in action–the next logical step toward true democracy’ (ibid. 358-359).


Excerpt out of 25 pages


DBC Pierre’s "Vernon God Little" and the Influence of Mass Media
University of Koblenz-Landau  (Anglistik)
Teaching Literature: Adolescence
Catalog Number
ISBN (eBook)
ISBN (Book)
pierre’s, vernon, little, influence, mass, media
Quote paper
Anonymous, 2020, DBC Pierre’s "Vernon God Little" and the Influence of Mass Media, Munich, GRIN Verlag, https://www.grin.com/document/1025676


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