April 16, 2007

19 04 2007

This post is not about the deadliest mass shooting in American History, the Virginia Tech Massacre. Instead this is about how we are affected by incidents like these and worse. Why some gain more importance in the media, while the others languish in the unseen corners of our psyche?

Most people I know were shocked by the allocation of real-estate on the front-pages of newspapers. How does one decide what is worthy of a larger font and photographs, interactive personal histories, and what is not?

There is more to this biased attention than meets the eye. It is not just that Americans were killed in VT. America does not mourn thousands of its fellow countrymen(though significantly less than the number of Iraqis) who die in Iraq the same way. All they get is mourning on the public radio, once a week, where their names are read out between two news segments.

One reason for the shock and empathy in the case of VT is the fear that it could have been me, my family, my son or daughter, my friends. This is a university classroom, people are struck by the fear that if it could happen here, it could happen at their workplace, grocery store or parking lot. I think, this motivates the interest people are taking in this tragedy, more than they are willing to admit. And case in point, some of the most popular desi blogs have posts that detail the Indians who were killed at VT, while making a respectful but brief mention of all the others who died. Why? Is this a bias? Or is it just that we have accepted that we are wired to be more concerned about our people?

As a child, when I watched movies set in Europe or America in the early 1900s I would always wonder, didn’t these people know that India and so many other countries were struggling for their freedom, there were famines and people dying everyday. How could one explain the indifference these characters display? They just care about their shallow insecurities, parties and fishing. But now, when I look at Darfur or Iraq, what have we done?

But then again, I do agree, at least in some cases, indifference is the least/We have to dread from man or beast, especially after seeing the havoc uninformed, insensitive meddling can result in.

There are so many cynical ways to look at why this particular tragedy has gained more prominence over many others, but lets not even go there.

Also read – Indifference.




4 responses

20 04 2007

I think “it could have been me” is prob the most important factor that decides what affects us. Media, needless to say, just follows the money. I think everyone realizes that anyone can buy a gun and start shooting at a school or mall tomorrow and we could all be victims. But I am not sure how many people realize that worse things can happen as easily. (Did you read TR’s latest (third) on Cambodia?) If we admit that these worse things could also happen to us, then maybe we will give them them deserved levels of attention.

Not sure about indifference man. Am not that cynical also.

On a related note: While we are talking about insensitive meddling and all, here’s some mandatory reading on the politics of naming in Darfur:

And most people know this guy as Mira Nair’s husband! The unfairness of it all!

20 04 2007

Oh wait, there’s more. Is it just me or do you also feel this business of writing obituaries and memoriams for people that one does not know a little neauseating? If you know her or his/her work, or they have influenced you in some way, it all makes sense. But the idea of writing about people that you did not know about (esp the thousands of scraps in Orkut profiles and stuff like that) gets to me. I don’t know why, it just does.

20 04 2007
The Black Mamba

veena, yes, that is the sad truth.

Did read TR’s post you are referring to. Vicarious experiences, unfortunately just aren’t enough to make people give these issues enough attention. And when the mass media decides to cover such issues, it does turn into a personal saga or such – very much like Kristoff’s pieces Mamdani refers to in his piece. Thanks for the link. Unfortunately Mamdani does not once mention ‘oil’ – one would assume that is a major reason people meddle with the middle-east and not africa.

And you are right. If it were plain old indifference – that would be much better. But the world is filled with shades of grey, and each new shade you learn to recgnize, the more helpless you feel. People are not sheer evil, no, that would be too easy.

Mira/Mahmood – I don’t know. only those who want publicity get it. the others can remain in peace. I would say, that is only fair.

Obits, well, I guess that is true.

12 05 2007
Space Bar

This is a bit late, but check out this blog: http://politicstheoryphotography.blogspot.com/

I can’t remember if there are posts specifically about Darfur, but he writes often about the way catastrophes are represented in the meida.

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