Thursday, April 19, 2007

April 16, 2007

This post is not about the deadliest mass shooting in American History, the Virginia Tech Massacre. Instead this is about how we are affected by incidents like these and worse. Why some gain more importance in the media, while the others languish in the unseen corners of our psyche?

Most people I know were shocked by the allocation of real-estate on the front-pages of newspapers. How does one decide what is worthy of a larger font and photographs, interactive personal histories, and what is not?

There is more to this biased attention than meets the eye. It is not just that Americans were killed in VT. America does not mourn thousands of its fellow countrymen(though significantly less than the number of Iraqis) who die in Iraq the same way. All they get is mourning on the public radio, once a week, where their names are read out between two news segments.

One reason for the shock and empathy in the case of VT is the fear that it could have been me, my family, my son or daughter, my friends. This is a university classroom, people are struck by the fear that if it could happen here, it could happen at their workplace, grocery store or parking lot. I think, this motivates the interest people are taking in this tragedy, more than they are willing to admit. And case in point, some of the most popular desi blogs have posts that detail the Indians who were killed at VT, while making a respectful but brief mention of all the others who died. Why? Is this a bias? Or is it just that we have accepted that we are wired to be more concerned about our people?

As a child, when I watched movies set in Europe or America in the early 1900s I would always wonder, didn't these people know that India and so many other countries were struggling for their freedom, there were famines and people dying everyday. How could one explain the indifference these characters display? They just care about their shallow insecurities, parties and fishing. But now, when I look at Darfur or Iraq, what have we done?

But then again, I do agree, at least in some cases, indifference is the least/We have to dread from man or beast, especially after seeing the havoc uninformed, insensitive meddling can result in.

There are so many cynical ways to look at why this particular tragedy has gained more prominence over many others, but lets not even go there.

Also read - Indifference.