Disaster Coverage and the Cult of the Inhumane

April 17, 2013 § Leave a comment

Last night, Motherboard’s Jamie Lee Curtis Taete posted the following list of the most cynical mainstream responses to the Boston bombings. As she writes:

Across the country, while people were trying to make sense of what had happened and wondering what they could do to help, website editors and bloggers asked themselves “how can we get some traffic out of this?”

Below are the six most shameless click-baiting efforts I saw in the immediate aftermath of the attacks. (BTW, I am fully aware of how hypocritical it must seem for me to be aggregating content from other sites for a listicle complaining about sites traffic-whoring in the wake of a tragedy, but eugh, whatever, these posts really annoyed me. If I could turn off the hit counter on this page, I would.)

Her list includes:

  • Celebrity clickbait (Joey MacIntyre missed the blast by 5 minutes!)
  • Listicle clickbait (29 reasons to love Boston!)
  • Celebrity listicle clickbait (10 celebrities from Boston!)
  • Travel tip clickbait (people from Boston sometimes go to the Caribbean!)
  • Celebrity reaction clickbait (celebrities have feelings about current events!)

I’m not bothering to link to the above articles, all of which are actual things written by humans; for a more complete rundown, see Curtis Taete’s piece here.

All of which links in important and depressing ways to this Guardian post written by Rolf Dobelli, which argues that the news –particularly disaster news– is bad for humans. It makes us sick; it makes us sad; it actually makes us less informed, not more. And yet, against all reason, we continue to consume it — not because it is in our interest to consume this sort of drivel (“consume” used deliberately, here, as a reminder that even in the wake of tragedy, or perhaps more accurately, especially in the wake of tragedy, we are still, ultimately, eyeballs for advertisements) but because it is in the corporate interests of the professional trolls, for whom disaster is little more than a business opportunity.

Normally I avoid talking about media in terms of “consumption,” since that sort of framing implies that the human mind is merely a convenient vessel into which the next marketing ploy may be slopped. I have far too much faith in our ability to remain creative and thoughtful, even in the face of the most cynical corporate content. But disaster coverage is different. Disaster coverage is forced upon us in a way that other forms of media are not. Disaster coverage implicitly equates reading whatever empty, obvious content (you’re telling me that Matt Damon was heartbroken by the bombings???) with caring, and in the process of slapping a price tag on compassion, cheapens the experience of being human. I have a great deal of respect for the experience of being human, and so I have nothing but disdain for this sort of coverage. We deserve better.


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