A sense of frustration drives this blog, borne out of the reaction to certain events over the past few days in the media, and which has been driven by the use of social networking sites. It has been pointed out that social media is immediate, and deals with the here-and-now – and that’s true. But there’s a disturbing phenomenon at work, that I think is a dark side-effect of a fantastic social tool.
Over the past few days, the crisis in Somalia has been growing. Uncountable people are dying of thirst and starvation, and the western world has the resources and the ability to alleviate the suffering.
At least 92 young people were massacred in Norway while at a summer camp, reportedly by a right-wing gunman.
A drug-addicted and alcoholic singer-songwriter was found dead at her flat yesterday morning. It’s thought that Amy Winehouse died of a drugs overdose – the post mortem will tell us.
I read all the papers every day as part of my job, and there has been some coverage of the famine in Somalia, I’m sure there will be a fair amount about Norway. I’m positive that there will be a massively disproportionate amount of cover about Amy Winehouse.
There has already been a massive outpouring of internet grief about her death; there seems to be little perspective here among the general public. Her death is a tragedy to her family, friends and community – but it shouldn’t be on the front pages of anything except the music press. Of course her fans will be upset; that’s natural. But the really worrying thing is this: there will be a lot of focus on her “troubled soul” and a waste of talent – the waste of talent is certainly true (she had an extraordinary voice).
However, I predict (and I hope I’m wrong) that there will be almost no focus on the problems that put her in that situation in the first place. The wider societal problems affecting real people: the choices that lead people to addiction (and they are choices, and the individuals are entirely responsible for them).
Her death is sad, and her family will have a difficult time living their grief in the public eye. I hope they get some peace to deal with it in private. And I hate the jokes that go around after a person’s death, and particularly hate the gloating. No death is a cause for laughter and rejoicing. But she’s one person.
Linked to this phenomenon, and a source of genuine anger, is the kind of reaction from the public to events like the Soham murders. Again, a terrible tragedy for their families and community – but they were only two people. And if they hadn’t been extremely pretty little girls, they would not have received half the publicity they did. A huge number of children are – equally sadly – hurt or killed every day, but they’re not quite so photogenic. Raising awareness of issues is a good thing. Bringing out the pitchforks is, emphatically, not.
The same people who set fire to a paediatrician’s house because her job title sounds a bit like “paedophile” were the ones raising merry hell and fake grief over the Soham girls. And absolutely nothing good has come from that. From the sinister and empty “something must be done”, something has been done.
Society’s trust has been eroded and communities have been broken down. Not by the girls’ murderer, but by the pitchfork-wielding public and politicians desperate to show that they’re not uncaring and unable to act. The wider issues have been completely sidelined, and real experts have been ignored. No longer are you innocent until proven guilty in this country; if you want to work with children, you’d damn well better jump through six hoops to prove you’re not an evil, child-molesting monster.
What is the result of this? Scout trips will cease. Duke of Edinburgh’s supervisors will be dwindle. School outings will become more difficult. Why should perfectly normal people have to prove they’re not child abusers before they can volunteer to help out on a school trip or a Scout outing? Children are told they can no longer trust adults. No wonder there is such a lack of respect for other individuals out there; if you’re told you can’t trust people, why bother to treat them with respect?
And the worst thing of all, the most frustrating aspect of everything to come out of the Soham case, is that this policy will have no effect AT ALL on incidences of child murder and abuse. Not only does about 80 per cent of abuse take place within the home, by a family member or close and trusted friend, but Ian Huntley (the Soham murderer) would not have been caught in the net in the first place. So the girls’ deaths would not have been prevented.
Abuse of anyone is a bad thing. All deaths are sad, and if they can be prevented, they should be. But tragedy on a large scale, on a human scale, is real. All I’m asking for is a little perspective, and for people to open their eyes to the wider world.
For those accusing me of being heartless: perhaps I am. But I don’t have enough within myself to shed tears for every individual. There is an awful lot wrong with this world, and a lot that I grieve for. I don’t need to focus my grief on a single celebrity, and I certainly want nothing to do with the competitive public grieving that seems to be the current fad. There is a huge amount that is good and wonderful about the world too, and I’d like to focus on that for a while.