Wednesday, April 17, 2013

How we respond to tragedy

Image: Creative Commons
 My hopes and prayers go to the families of everyone killed, wounded and hurt, traumatized and terrified by the bombs in Boston on Monday. My sympathies go to everyone who is struggling through the clean-up, the aftermath and the traffic snarls as the city recovers from the cowardly sneak attack.
And for whoever planted the bombs, whoever encouraged and enabled the attack, I have only contempt and condemnation.

Every terrorist attack, every underhanded, gutless affront like this generates a hurricane of media. And when it happens in a major city in the biggest media source in the world, the US, we all know to expect a biblical flood of reportage. And we know that the media’s attention in general will be distracted from all sorts of other subjects, worthwhile of attention and less so, at least until the next shocking event diverts them again.

It’s fitting; this is an event worth our attention. And it’s right that all of us pause, for at least some time, in our normal daily routines.

But what should we put on hold? And for how long?

Getting slagged

Immediately following the bombing, I got a couple of messages from followers of this blog or my Twitter feed saying that I should hold off in my normal advertising because of the bombing and the innocent blood shed. I read that the Kardashians got scolded for continuing to Tweet about their vapid activities as the first news reports continued to trickle through the Web and the broadcast media.

My first reaction was: “Oh, right. Sorry — I’ll get right to correcting my automatic Twitter feed.” Then I thought: “Wait a minute. Why?”

I am not trying to capitalize on this tragedy. No one should ever even try to use it to promote himself or herself, or a product or service. It happened, and we have to acknowledge it, honour the memory of the innocents killed, hurt and scarred.

It’s also right, though, to look at the coverage, to think about and analyze and discuss our reactions. There is a lot to be learned, a lot worth learning from the aftermath.

My first impression of the news coverage of the terrible event was that it was better than what we got after earlier terror attacks on the US and elsewhere in the West. It seems to me that it’s been more rational and cautious with less jumping to conclusions about the perpetrators than after 9/11 or the foiled bombing in Times Square on New Year’s Eve, 2010.


Should all of us suspend everything else we’re doing in response to this event? Should we refrain from our usual tweeting? For how long?

The Fox network has reportedly pulled an episode of Family Guy from broadcast and because it depicts Peter Griffin running down runners at the Boston Marathon with his car.

I was chastised for tweeting a quote from a review of my novel, The Bones of the Earth, which mentions violence, gore, monsters and more.

I think that’s fair in the immediate aftermath; it does seem insensitive to be promoting fictional gore when most people’s attention is caught by the real-world variety and people are suffering.

On the other hand, that response gives the perpetrators of this crime exactly what they want.

Many years ago, I read a story called “Very Proper Charlies,” about how journalists around the world decided to stop covering any terrorist attacks. No matter what the damage or how many the casualties, the news ignored it. The result was that the terrorists eventually gave up, because attention was the reason they did what they did.

Sure, it was an exaggeration. But it still had a point: terrorism is a tactic to draw attention to a cause that has no other way of getting any. Whether it’s effective in the long term is a different discussion. But when the news media descend on a terrorist strike like crows on a corpse, the criminals are fulfilled.

And the more that we turn away from what we normally do, from the activities that build the world up and make it a better place, the more we hurt ourselves.

Let’s face it, terrorist acts happen all the time. People living in Iraq, Israel, Afghanistan and many other places around the world deal with checkpoints and continuous threat of bombings every single day. No one bashes Kim Kardashian for tweeting about her new sweater when bombs go off elsewhere.

We cannot stop our normal lives, working toward our goals, for every tragedy or crime that happens.

Maybe we should try treating terrorists like very proper charlies. Of course, that would not acknowledge the suffering of the victims.

It’s a difficult question. What do you think we should do? Leave your opinion in the Comments.

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