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April 23, 2012 | by  | in Features | [ssba]

Granny Was Right

Lessons learnt from the proles who read a1.

The Dominion in front of me reads,

“Man killed in hunting accident”. The Daily Mail on my friend’s laptop exposes a new rape case in Liverpool.

The Herald adds another number to the homicide count in Wanganui.

On all these covers, the details are crucial. Gruesome anecdotes of death and dislocation: a friend that mistook his mate’s camo for the horns of a stag; gang violence that goes awry outside the local meth lab. Pictures are a necessity, and in many cases sufficient, condition of these articles. People want to see it; smell it; imagine themselves in the gumboots of the victim.

But not I.

These stories bore me. They are banal, plain, and uninteresting. I snub them and their sensationalism. The front page may sell to the Plebeians but not to me. I reject their paper because of its cover. That ain’t ‘real’ journalism. It’s just a piece of school creative writing where they don’t even have to think up the characters’ names.

Sensationalist bullshit isn’t journalism. It won’t win them a Pulitzer. Me, I prefer the real deal. I’ll peruse the Guardian to reexamine world famine. I may even gander into the New York Times to recontextualise my view of the drug war, if I’m feeling a bit more bipartisan. Ideas matter and big ones matter the most. Don’t worry me with hometown strife. Data is not the plural of anecdote—if only the riffraff would realise.

As bizarre as it may seem though, I believe these common readers possess some feeling or character trait that I lack. The populist journalism manages to evoke within them a profound sense of emotion for the victims in these tragic tales. I am in awe of my Granny and all the other readers of A1. They are able to empathise directly with individuals and stories distant from them. They are not tied to them by family, friendship or geography. The victim did not go to their school or live around the corner–but this doesn’t seem to matter. Their empathy has no boundaries. They are just shocked by the actions of other human beings.

To them, a murder is not just a statistic. It’s not a result of government policy, which funds gangs and subsidises violence due to the prohibition on drugs. To them, it’s one individual being killed by another: human beings with family and friends and fear. Who cares about the distant, tangential cause of their death? They died. That’s what matters.

I don’t consider myself callous. It’s not that I don’t care about their stories. If I just had to read one story a month, or even one a fortnight, then I’d be fine. It’s that it engulfs me everyday: another death, another rape victim, another freak accident. I can’t handle the bombardment of suffering so I vaccinate myself from it. I have become apathetic to the news on A1.

But my snobbery must not extend to its empathetic readers. They become distraught day, after day, after day at a new folk tale of pathos. I hide behind statistics and broad policy reasoning, numbed by the continual attack of anecdote. Their empathy is admirable. My reading of The Guardian is erudite but it becomes so abstracted, so theoretical that any policy conclusion is too distant from the real issues. My Granny gets it more than I do. She and the millions of others who voraciously consume mass media and anecdotal journalism have a connection to individuals which you and I often lack.

We may feel that we ‘get it’ but our drive to abstract and hypothesise blinds us from an appreciation of what is most important: those who suffer: the pawns in our utilitarian chess game to achieve ‘global prosperity’. A hunting accident is more than just an example of the need for greater gun control and a rape victim has relevancy beyond helping me understand the causes and nuances of rape culture. A1 is average journalism but those who read it should be admired, not snubbed: even you, Granny.


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