Tuesday, April 16, 2013

The Ghouls

That would be a lot of the US media covering the Boston Marathon bombings.  Because of 911, I was aware of certain things to look for, even without intending to look for them, and I spotted them very very fast.  For example, a local television station showing injured people being pushed in wheelchairs by emergency personnel seemed to apologize for the fact that these were the people being helped later because they were less hurt.  So we got told there was a lot of blood and missing limbs earlier.

We are invited to participate in a disaster vicariously.  For that to work, the coverage must focus on suffering, the more gruesome the better, and repetition of the worst possible shots.  As I mentioned in earlier comments, one television station told the viewers: "And now you can watch the bombings one more time."

Even the people on the site only watched the bombings once.

All this is very bad, for four reasons:  First, acting ghoulish serves the goals of any terrorists.  They want to terrorize us, the media participates in producing maximum fear in its audiences.

Second, as I have written elsewhere, watching the disaster unfolding, over and over again, is very harmful.  It may give the viewer vicarious PTSD, and that benefits nobody, but may cost money one day to treat and may also warp our thinking about the events.  Our bodies think we were there, our bodies store the memories, for them to crop up later at certain cues.

Third, if it doesn't cause PTSD in someone, it may cause a confusion between reality and movies, hardening the viewer, making the events seem altogether unreal and contrived.  From that it's not a big step to the assumption that all disasters are unreal, conspiracies created by this government or some other nefarious group, rather than terrorists of whatever stripe.

Fourth, there is a flavor of pain pron in much of the coverage:  Looking for the most heart-breaking case, repeating it over and over again, shifting from that to the next most heart-breaking case and so on.

I get that we are all drawn to be ghouls, that our natural reactions are to watch, mesmerized and shocked.  I get that, because it would be a somewhat useful reaction if we were on the site and unable to help, because some learning could come from all that.  But it's not helpful when the events unfold elsewhere, when we are not there, and when our watching doesn't help anyone but may harm us.