Saturday, March 26, 2011

Distraction and Disaster

In today's Age, Suzy Freeman-Greene reflects on the unsettling 'god's-eye' perspective of televisual media, particularly during catastrophes.

In particular, she notes the easy slippage between reportage and entertainment:
Perhaps, as viewers, we owe it to those who have suffered in much-filmed disasters to pay careful attention, at the very least, to how and what we watch. It's so easy to skip from one video or news clip to another online, our attention fragmented or searching for something more spectacular.
Freeman-Greene isn't offering a simple rule-based solution: you can watch X, but not Y.  And she's not advocating censorship.

Instead, she's arguing for a quality of attention: a combination of focus, sympathy and generosity.  This is not an aesthetic state-of-mind, in which suffering can be distantly enjoyed as beautiful or striking.  It is one of heightened empathy - it's more about common vulnerability than vicarious expectation; more about mindfulness than distraction.

In defence of this position, Freeman-Greene nods to my piece 'The Reader's Duties' in the latest Meanjin.    In this piece, there is one very big 'if':
This is all prefaced on a simple assumption: we want to read well, with acumen and generosity. We might not. There is, after all, a spirit of righteous narkiness that enjoys reading contrarily.
There are those who happily watch with narkiness too - and brutality, narrowness, cynicism.  They are all over Youtube, Facebook, and no doubt in millions of lounge rooms.  Is there any appeal to make to them, or can the lesson only be taught by suffering itself?

(Photo: AP/Richard Drew, courtesy ctv.ca)

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