Desensitized

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Tuesday, August 5, 2014


TECHNOLOGY has brought us the sights and sounds of war with a degree of immediacy never before possible in mass media. We see the flash of light before the ground shakes in a loud explosion of ordnance that in seconds fill our screens with plumes of smoke and debris, all happening in real time. The only things lacking to complete the experience are the smell of cordite and blood and the sensation of being thrown meters away by the blast from our couches where we sit safe yet transfixed.

The live coverage of the war in Gaza half a world away has brought harrowing events into our living rooms as it happens. It is not images of brotherly love and unity that bring us together this time but a perverse fixation with visions of death and violence that betray the barbarism we are capable of inflicting upon each other as a species.

There is footage of media men filming yet another arrival of an ambulance to a Palestinian hospital carrying another batch of the wounded and possibly the dead in a recent Israeli attack nearby. All of a sudden there is a flash and smoke and the camera is flung to the ground. When the dust settles after the explosion on hospital grounds, scores are dead and wounded including the cameraman of the local TV crew. Even international media organizations and their live set-up in Gaza are not spared from a few close calls with the indiscriminate Israeli shelling.

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There is something about seeing murder happening before our very eyes that is twisted yet fascinating. But instead of the make-believe gore of slash flicks for instance, this time the element that transfixes us is the morbid knowledge that in the wake of every bang are the torn bodies and limbs of real people. This also explains why the coverage of the Malaysian airplane wreckage in Ukraine is equally riveting as cadaver dogs now scour the area for the remaining body parts of the victims.

This is not far off from the pictures of the great storms Yolanda, Pablo, and Sendong and the gory aftermath of these natural disasters we posted and shared on social media. Or other types of violence that are now readily accessible on Youtube. Admittedly, this form of addiction to violence porn is good television or translates into an increase in web traffic – the kind that reigns in viewers for television news giant such as CNN and new media behemoths like youtube. But where does this state of affairs leave us as consumers of these troubling images?

The coverage of war and other events do redound to some public good. For instance, the asymmetrical conflict currently being waged by Israel in Gaza is seen by most as an excessive and unjust campaign. The advance in media technology making possible live high-resolution images of the war as it happens has made it difficult for spin-doctors to shift public opinion in favor of Israel.

The dynamics among news anchors in CNN and their reporters on the ground has been interesting for instance. The growing sympathy of their people who witness the shelling first-hand cannot be quelled by the attempts of the news anchors in their headquarters to dampen their increasing critical stance. But in the case of the war in Gaza entering its first month with a death toll nearing two thousand many of whom are civilian women and children, the images are enough to form informed opinions. There may very well be a time when news will come from live cams without the inane intervention of out-of-touch news anchors.

However, the repeated exposure to such violence on TV and social media also creates a sense of malaise among the viewers especially when what one witnesses is half a world away. The time will come when instead of revulsion and shock; we watch these events as morbid forms of entertainment. Or is that time already upon us?

Yes, we feel for the victims of these unfortunate incidents. And perhaps some of us may have uttered a prayer for the souls of the innocent wasted on these grim occurrences. But there is something seriously disconcerting in witnessing such carnage at a grand scale and yet be able to stand up, go to the fridge and grab a drink, and horror of horrors, subsequently switch channels to HBO.

Published in the Sun.Star Cagayan de Oro newspaper on August 05, 2014.

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