On one day, July 20, 2012:
12 people were slaughtered by a gunman in a Colorado movie theater.
800 women died in childbirth.
3,000 African children were killed by malaria.
4,658 people died from HIV/AIDS.
Now, which do you remember hearing about?
A shooting at a Denver-area showing of everyone’s new favorite movie is a ready-made news story. We can imagine ourselves in those theater seats, so the association is automatic. The fear: immediate.
Far more difficult to imagine ourselves in the squalor of a sub-Saharan jungle, writhing and convulsing as we succumb to the fever brought on by malaria.
Which means that in the above I was engaging in hyperbole. It is absurd to think that, every day, we would each recall that 800 women will die while giving birth, or that HIV will kill 4,658 human beings.
Then there’s the sociological factor: in Colorado, another man did this to his fellow men (and women and children).
Malaria – that’s the fault of mosquitoes. HIV: a nasty virus.
So maybe that’s it; that’s why we can be forgiven our shortsightedness. We’re only human, after all.
Except that, on the same day, July 20, 2012:
58 people died in clashes in the Sudan.
85 civilians were killed in the Syrian Civil War.
1,152 women were raped in the Congo.
But still: FAR AWAY, NOT IMMEDIATE, SO MUCH EASIER TO THINK ABOUT BATMAN.
If only we had people to help filter this information…
When the news from Aurora, Colo. broke, next came the usual firestorm of breathless speculation and wide-eyed shock that we’ve come to expect from the men and women we call our media. The same words were tossed around: “tragic,” “madman,” “unthinkable.”
The massacre in Aurora was tragic, of course. And probably done by a madman. And perhaps unthinkable, although in this day and age a random shooting is hardly unthinkable; we only had to wait two weeks for the next one.
But was it deserving of its place as the main story – in some cases, nearly the ONLY story – in the news cycle that spanned the next few days?
When presented with the fact that American news coverage is closer to entertainment than journalism, we usually throw up our hands, saying that such ratings-driven thinking is inevitable.
It could be said, then, that we have only ourselves to blame – we’re clicking on these links, we’re being suckered in by the “Breaking News” ticker inching along the bottom of our television screens.
But is this response entirely our fault? Does our media not have some responsibility? Shouldn’t the men and women who call themselves journalists be able to rise above the rabble, be expected to rise above it? Shouldn’t those people be able to note that, “Yes, this was really bad, but many other bad things happened today, and you need to be made aware of them, too.”
Dozens of innocent people killed in the streets of Damascus while their brutal dictator seeks his revenge against his own people.
Hundreds of women dying, unnecessarily, in childbirth.
Over a thousand women raped – RAPED – in the Congo, on July 20.
And then again on July 21.
And yet again on July 22…
Numbers, statistics, cold hard facts about rape and AIDS and malaria: these things don’t make a terrorist act in Colorado any less horrific and tragic than it is. An event like that one, endured by hundreds of people in Colorado and affecting countless others, certainly deserves our thoughts, our sympathy, our collective eye.
But those numbers, those statistics, those facts: they do provide context for the Aurora shootings. They remind us that our American existences – in which concern over whether we will be able to see a movie without fearing for our lives – are actually remarkably privileged.
We could be worried about dying from a mosquito bite, or watching a sister-in-law suffer through her last fight with HIV.
And it is the job of our journalists to remind us of that.
Note: Statistics from The World Health Organization, The Foundation For AIDS Research, The Sudan Tribune, The Syrian Observatory For Human Rights, and The American Journal Of Public Health.
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