Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Service or exploitation?

I wonder when grieving became a public exercise? Once upon a time, people were left to grieve in the company of family and friends when a loved one dies – now it’s splashed across the pages and television screens of the nation. Just recently there have been some tragic deaths in Newfoundland and reporters have been assigned to go talk to the families, in some cases, before the dead person is buried. That’s followed by the heart-wrenching stories of how much the family misses the dead, the special moments, the little things the dead did for others. It’s the kind of reminiscence that once used to happen at the wake or at the reception after the funeral, but not until recently did it become a media exercise. How about the instantaneous tributes that pop up at the site of a death? Suddenly, there are flowers and teddy bears and notes about what a wonderful person so and so was. Consider as well when a student dies and the school is suddenly invaded by “counsellors” eager to provide their services to help the other students deal with their grief. TV cameras sit on the sidewalk to ask the students going into school “how they feel” or some other stupid questions. In some cases, it appears that it’s a catharsis for the survivors to be able to go on camera with tear-streaked cheeks to tell how sad they are. TV stations and newspapers do it over and over again because at essence, we are rubber-neckers, unable to pass by an accident on the highway without stopping to look and see. But when did we move from private grief to public grief? More importantly, why?


Chris said...

Quite simply, we have become a we-want-the-news-right-now generation or, as I like to call it, the point-and-clink generation, to get our information. And it seems the more tragic, morbid or shocking the story, the more our technological rubbernecking has become. (Just look at the "top" stories at the VOCM news website.)

The question that begs to be answered is why. Why have people started to become more fascinated in the suffering and grief of others? The answer, quite simply, is we haven’t – we have always been this way. But now it’s much easier to log on and see things happen in real time. Just turn on the major TV networks or local affiliates in large US and Canadian cities to see scores of "reporters", surrounded by satellite trucks, giving us up to the minute intimate and sometimes gory details of what they consider a major news event. Apparently, it's what they think we want and, to a great degree, they are right.

Think about the last time you clicked through the stations on the tube and came across a story about human loss or suffering when a family member was being “interviewed”. Most people, me included, stop clicking.

People, by nature, are rubberneckers. We can’t help ourselves. Making instant access to tragic events and the grief that accompanies it, only fuels a desire to tune it. The online access from news websites, plus the added in your face reporting from the major TV networks, only fuels our desire to tune it. Yes, we may be disgusted at their approach and intrusion into the lives of people who are suffering tragic loss and grief, but we still watch.

One thing worth noting is that with the increased emphasis on this "service" or as you aptly describe it, exploitation, is our increasing levels of desensitisation to the loss and suffering of others. Yes, we’ll watch and feel sorry, but we’ll move along. Especially if it's not in our own back yard.

Wisewebwoman said...

To throw a little morbid humour at you VP, I often think, with all these wonderful saints and phenomenal people leaving us, are the ones left (such as you and I) the very scrapings of humanity at the bottom of the barrel?

ViewPoint2010 said...

Thanks for a good and thoughtful reflection Chris. I agree with you. As the world of “infotainment” took over from real news, news values became seriously skewed. If you wonder about that, just listen to the CBC in St. John’s sometime. Not sure if they have PETA members on their editorial board, but it seems that an animal abuse story will outrank just about any story you can imagine, including leading the poor excuse for a newscast on the hour in the early morning. Contemporary journalism is little more than fluff for the most part … whenever you hear one of the so-called investigative reports, the banter between the host and the reporter is so tightly scripted that I suspect everyone in the control room would have a seizure if a real question was asked and not just one that appears on page two of the script. As go the news values, so go our demands for the fluff or for the rubber necking. Who cares about the really important social issues in this province when it’s far more fun to keep telling us that a woman has 23-pages of criminal convictions.

ViewPoint2010 said...

Hey there wild web woman! You that right. Of course, we scrapings are what hold the rest of it together. Good piece on the oil spill. I’m pissed off too, but have yet to find the right voice to express that. XO backatcha.