Media and Grief

Last week, on the same day, bombings occurred in Boston, Ma and across Iraq– 5,808 miles apart, but for one day they were tragically right next door to each other. The lives of three people were claimed in Boston and hundreds of others were injured; in Iraq over 50 people were killed with more than 100 wounded.

In response to the Marathon Bombing, the President interrupted his schedule to travel to Boston, attend a nationally broadcast inter/multifaith service and to speak about the event and subsequent investigation.  Iraqi president Jalal Talabani would have to have had the sum of all the powers of the Avengers to attend a service at the site of every attack in his country last week – bombs went off in 8 to 10 cities (reports varied). In the US, there was a national moment of silence; the last moment of silence I could find in Iraq happened in 2005, for victims of car bombings.

The rest of the week saw an earthquake in China which killed almost 200 people and injured thousands, bombings in Iraq, news of a massacre by loyalist forces in Syria, bombings in Iraq, the shooting death of two stoners in Colorado and more bombings in Iraq.

The US and our media did not ignore these other events; but neither have we placed them on a par with what happened in Boston.  A search on ‘tweets per minute, Boston Marathon’ showed that still today, there are an average of 205 tweets per minute on the subject.[1]  Run the same search substituting ‘Boston Marathon’ with ‘Iraq Bombing,’ and you’ll learn that Obama’s DNC speech set a record tweet per minute rate.  Well, huh.  But Twitter being a purely Western media outlet and the fact that people in Iraq have much more limited access to networking could also explain that huge difference.

The Boston Bombings happened here – does location influence the fierce attention of the US and Western public?  Certainly, media and its editors/producers place a value on American interest in bloodshed and its newsworthiness, assigning an almost numeric or economic value to carnage. According to Owen Jones of the Telegraph, this comes under “Cultural Proximity” – a shared cultural identity or understanding of who we are enhanced by a common language.

Does this coverage demonstrate an explicit acceptance as a fact of life in assigning what Jones calls a hierarchy of death?  Is media mirroring racism back at us?  The fact is that bombings happen with much more frequency in Iraq than in the US, or most places in the West.  Iraq does not have realistic opportunity to express outrage on an international level. A good friend ran into the cultural differences between a MENA owned company versus the US attitude to bombings and death after 9/11.  On 9/13, when NYC opened back up again, his bosses’ bosses in Jerusalem couldn’t understand why the office – 20 plus blocks north of Ground Zero – was still closed. Because, as they pointed out, bombings were part of life there.

As a culture, America has the reputation for, well, worshipping youth, beauty, health and strength.  Marathon runners have the health and strength part down, and some even have the beauty.  In a way, they represent what lots of Americans are trying to do – out race death.  We pit lots against Death – one way we measure our success in Afghanistan is the dramatic increase in life expectancy there.  And yet, death seems to constantly surprise us.  In a culture that has both much greater security than almost any other society, as well as much greater access – for most people – to services like emergency medical care, fire fighting capabilities or even only the resources and infrastructure to provide these services.

Last week, nationally we ripped our shirts, tugged our hair and ululated on the tragedy – across multiple media outlets. Let’s hope that although this does not mean we understand what life is like anywhere where were this sort of senseless violence happens daily, at least we can be more empathetic and conscious of the human toll, of violence at any place.

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