Tuesday, June 21, 2016

June 21, 2016--Good Grief

When did all this public grieving begin? The candlelight vigils, the color-coded ribbons, the balloons, the flowers, the stuffed animals?

The latest manifestation, the outpourings were for the 49 victims of the mass shooting at a nightclub in Orlando.

All of this on some level is understandable--a way to deal with the unfathomable.

What is less understandable is the way the media, print and electronic, devote more time to covering the biographies of the victims and the grieving than the event and its implications. In this case the murders and injuries, the causes, the psychological and social policy analysis of why this occurred, the assignment of blame, the struggle to find ways to intervene preemptively and hopefully get better at forestalling future mass crimes.

In this regard, it appears already that the FBI has some work to do to get better at identifying and keeping track of potential terrorists.

But about the grieving.

I know a number of people who lost loved ones in the 9/11 attack on New York and Washington.

An acquaintance who lost her husband, on the eighth anniversary of the tragedy said to me, with considerable passion, "I've had it with the grieving and the annual public remembrances. I want to move beyond grieving  and get on with my life. I feel guilty saying this, but it's the truth. I think others, who fortunately did not lose family members, have taken possession of 9/11 and immerse themselves in it as if was their own personal tragedy."

"But don't you think . . .?"

"Yes, it was an attack on America and thus even to those more fortunate than I it belongs in a sense to them too. As in Paris how so many carried signs and wore T-shirts saying, 'Je Suis Charlie.' I get that but not the deep emotional connection to the event that they seem to have. The embrace of the mourning, the unwillingness to move on. Or to let others like me closer to the reality do so. They've taken the experience away from survivors and appropriated it, made it their own."

When I called to check in with her after the Orlando shooting, she confirmed that to her a version of the same thing is now unfolding. She was also quick to point out how the media are largely responsible. How they encourage, how they contribute to the bathos. It attracts readers and viewers. It's good for sales and ratings. She also acknowledged that she realizes she sounds cynical but feels she is also telling the difficult-to-discuss truth.

I agree.

Is it because we have trouble with authentic emotion? That what more and more has come to represent feeling has been mediated and commodified? Back in 1961, in anticipation of the media-saturated era we were entering, Daniel Boorstin wrote about pseudo-events in his influential, The Image.

A pseudo-event is one that exists for the sole purpose of generating media publicity. Or one that gets taken over by the media as a vehicle to entice and addict.

The JFK funeral two years after The Image became such an event. On a monumental scale. Yes, there were good reasons for all of us to feel deep loss and grief. But for days and days and days, 24 hours a day? That in fact was what it became. A media-orchestrated event of colossal proportions and duration.

Just as the death and funeral of Princess Diana in 1997 was transformed from a true tragedy into a pseudo-event.

In fact, it was during Princess Di's funeral that some of the elements and gestures of widespread, worldwide public grieving was first manifested--the mountains of flowers (including those that landed on and covered her hearse), the hand-wrtiten notes, the stuffed animals, the crowds lining the streets of the funeral cortege many hours in advance, the public parade of mourners.

Just yesterday, to emphasize this point, NBC News, in case anyone had forgotten the slaughter of innocents in Newtown, Connecticut in 2016 where 26 were murdered, posted on line a piece to amplify and further exploit that connection, "Newtown Offers Lessons to Anguished Orlando."

My suggestion--leave them alone.

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