The news over the last couple of weeks has been particularly distressing to follow. My sympathy goes out to the parents of missing April Jones, sadly now believed murdered. It beggars belief that a human being could be capable of such an act against an innocent child.
But in addition to the horrors in the headlines themselves, the thing that has really disturbed me this week has been the reaction of the public to the news. There seems to be developing a very unhealthy culture of shared grief in this country - a blurred confusion between sympathy and empathy. I’ve observed for some time now this trend where people are moving beyond feeling sympathy with the pain of those who suffer to wanting to be part of the actual grief itself. It is as if people don’t want to be a bystander to tragedy, they want recognition for suffering themselves.
And I find all this public grieving by people who are not directly involved to be, in all honesty, a bit ghoulish. It makes a mockery of the pain of those genuinely and personally affected. Unless you are directly involved, this is not your grief and not your tragedy.
There was an incident mid week where a newsreporter was accused of being “cruel” because she spoke with local members of the community and informed them that it was believed the little girl had most likely been murdered. Had this woman stormed into the home of the parents of the missing girl, I would agree that she had overstepped the mark. But to give information to people not related to the child, not personally affected by the tragedy… This was considered cruel? Well frankly I don’t think it was cruel, it was a woman trying to do her job in very difficult circumstances. The grief belongs to the parents not the bystanders. It wasn’t a personal tragedy for the bystanders and it wasn’t their grief. The bandwagon of grieving it would appear is an easy one to jump onto.
And I don’t like the way the media insist on glamorising the news and dressing it up as an interactive spectacle. The minute by minute blogs would be more in keeping with reality television than factual news updates. Again there is this sense of involvement, as if the personal tragedy belongs to all of us, as if we have a right to know everything as soon as it happens. We talk about how events like this unite us as communities and even as a national conscience, but perhaps we need to look for other ways to achieve that unity. This sensationalist reporting of the news trivialises and cheapens genuine tragedy. It makes it feel too much like a cliffhanger episode of Dallas and not something terrible that is happening to real people right now.
Beyond the grief hogs lurks an even worse kind of person, someone who tries to divert the public interest in the news story to suit their own twisted ends. One individual has been jailed what they have written about the missing child on Facebook. This person hijacked a private forum of respect to broadcast their ignorant and offensive comments in an attempt to snatch a feeble moment of media interest in themselves. Sickening. But yet becoming increasingly more common. These fame seekers crawl out of the woodwork and leech onto current news stories with inevitable and tedious regularity. Not so much jumping on the bandwagon of grief so much as hijacking it. Good to see the law taking action against such a pathetic specimen.
The law has been a bit of a contentious issue in itself though. In so far as why don’t we just let the law get on with its business? Across social media sites people are baying for blood and the return of the death penalty. The man accused of the child’s murder was tried, convicted and hanged before he even set foot in a courtroom. This isn’t justice, its vigilantism at its worst. It’s a product of small minded self righteous people who persist in judging somebody before any guilt has been lawfully established. It’s crossing that fine line between wanting to be part of the problem and wanting to be part of the solution. And it’s a sad indictment on a society that is too impatient to wait for justice to be served and too selfish to leave anybody alone to grieve in peace.
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