I’m sure everyone knows that there were bombs detonated near the finish line of the Boston marathon yesterday afternoon. As of this morning when I left my house, there were three dead, almost two hundred people wounded. They aren’t sure how many devices there were beyond the two that exploded. Whether this was an act of domestic or international terrorism is still being investigated. The bomber’s motive is still unknown.
I first learned about the attack from an NPR email alert on my phone. I was still at work, unable to turn on a tv or go hunting online for news. Later, a “story” showed up that was a compilation of tweets, full of pictures that clearly showed blood and injured people. I was sickened, both at the sight of the destruction and the decision to publish those pictures. I deleted the email before finishing, there was no way I could look at all of the images and keep my shit together at work.
When I got home, MSNBC was on. As I sat down to watch Chris Matthews, I was curious to know if anyone had come forward, if they were sure all of the bombs were diffused and accounted for, if there were attacks anywhere else. Instead, I saw video after video of the bomb itself. There was live feed showing people taken away on stretchers. Chris had witnesses calling in to go over what they saw or felt. And in the middle of one of these calls, he asked “Did you see any limbs or body parts lying around?”
Even now, just thinking about it, I’m furious and saddened. How is that news? How is that a pertinent question? Why do we accept that from our media? When did it become appropriate to ask a witness to a bombing to share the most gruesome sights of a tragedy? There was no new information to be gleaned, no way that helped anyone; it was just morbid and wrong.
I turned the channel, I couldn’t watch any more. I know the reasons why it can be important to witness the harsh realities of tragic events. I’ve seen photos and videos from other horrible events, seen the awful one human can do to another. I don’t live in a fantasy bubble where these things don’t happen. I know that seeing one picture can convey the horror of a situation much better than a long article. But this felt different. I felt used on behalf of those victims; I felt sorrow that Chris Matthews, a man I normally like even through his bombast and ridiculousness, was compelled to ask that question, and depressed that no one called him out on it.
This is what we expect now. I remember feeling this after 9/11, when the news was showing video of people jumping out of 100 story windows. During the Egyptian revolution and the Arab Spring, there were pictures of people that were brutally beaten. There was video leaked of Qaddafi’s death. There was uproar in some parts that the President didn’t release any photos of Bin Laden’s corpse, complete with bullet holes and brain splatter. How sick are we? How numbed by violence can we get?
I know this isn’t a new part of our culture. History is full of gladiators and impalings and trophies of flesh. The best entertainment used to be a public execution. I fully admit to enjoying movies and shows with graphic violence. I was happy when Bin Laden was assassinated – I cried during the President’s announcement with relief and righteousness. But there must be a line somewhere that separates news and entertainment and exploitation. There has to be a way to inform the public of a tragedy without hours of live footage showing the dead and injured and survivors, without asking people to describe the worst things they saw, without dissecting each moment over and over and over again. I don’t know how and I have no power or influence beyond changing the channel, closing the browser, turning off the radio.
I don’t have any hopes that this will change. If anything, I believe it’s going to continually get worse. I hope we stop ourselves before we enter Hunger Games territory, but I don’t have too much faith, honestly. We live in a violent world, always have, always will and voyeurism is part of who we are. There’s no answer to this question that has been asked so many times already. But I won’t stop fighting against it, even if my only action is to put turn off the television. I can’t stop, and I can’t stay quiet.