The images are terrible.
Blood spattered locations. Families, friends and bystanders overcome with grief. Seriously injured and dying victims being carried to waiting ambulances and other vehicles by first responders and citizen volunteers. Pictures of the perpetrator(s) smirking at us from social media.
These videos are on a loop, playing over and over again while talking heads use the tragedy for political gain. On the Right, it's all Obama's fault for refusing to destroy ISIS and for refusing to use the term "Radical Islam". On the Left, it's more calls for gun control and lamenting the influence of the NRA.
Cable News Networks have become our YouPorn for disaster porn, delivering stimulation for our reptilian brains 24 hours a day and 7 days a week. There is no greater money maker for cable news than tragedy. And cable news exploits tragedy for all it is worth.
Eric C. Wilson, a Wake Forest University English Professor and author of Everyone Loves a Good Train Wreck: Why We Can’t Look Away, writes, “we never feel more alive than in times of distress, danger, and calamity”. The German word schadenfreude describes the pleasure that often comes from another's misfortune. Viewers who obsess on disaster porn don't necessarily feel good at the expense of those who are suffering. But as long as we can watch from a safe vantage point, according to Wilson we can “undergo a sublime experience” while observing the suffering of others.
People have always flocked to places that have seen horrific events, such as wars, floods, and destruction. We now have the technology to view and record any event that is happening – in real time, and this has allowed us to watch disasters as they are occurring and feel the tension and grief among the survivors. But it doesn't end when the incident is over. It continues on for weeks and months afterwards. As a result, our nation’s obsession with accidents and destruction has only grown and “disaster porn” -- the media's cashing-in on tragedy has grown with it.
We are horrified by images of tragedies but we are also mesmerized by them. We’ll tune in and tweet on and endlessly add to the demand for more more more, all while claiming how terrible it all is and that we are horrified by it.
Meanwhile, all of the media coverage and pearl-clutching gives the perpetrators of terrorist acts and those who inspire them exactly what they are trying to achieve. Those who have perverted Islam want us to believe we are at war with all Muslims. If we let our fears cause us to turn against and marginalize all Muslims, more marginalized and disaffected youth will be inspired to join them or engage in "lone wolf" acts of terror.
This is certainly not entirely the media's fault, because they are simply giving us what we demand. We are feeding the terror machine by wallowing in the tragedy that results from terrorist acts. However, there are some things the media should stop doing; they should stop rewarding terrorism by looping the video along with the suspect's picture over and over again.
If we don't stop obsessing on disaster porn, the legacy of terrorism in America will be a chronic, irrational fear that will continue to result in wasteful spending, more futile military adventures and ever greater compromises of our civil liberties.
Another blog post by Ken Padgett
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