Friday, March 31, 2006

Death Notifications, notific-ography

Eric Zorn had a post on his blog on March 29, 2006 (took me a while to get to read it) about the obsession “with accounts of tragedy notification”. As is often true, it is a great read.

He succinctly puts it:

I suppose the decent thing to do would be to avert one’s eyes from the intensely personal, searingly painful and utterly lifechanging scene. Yet not only do I always, always read on, but I find myself seeking out such scenes more than I do the moment-by-moment accounts of the tragedies themselves.

As I put in a comment I sent regarding his posting: “I do think it is a baser (or more basic) “appetite” than many folks are willing to admit. That doesn’t make it “bad” per se, but there is a strong desire for this “pure emotional pornography” (his phrase). It is a pervasive “appetite”, it does sell newspapers and other news media, and it sells movies and books. But dressing it up in higher reasoning isn’t much different than putting a pig in a pinafore. It is what it is, an attempt to vicariously experience someone else’s strong emotional moment, someone else’s painful experience.”

I do get questions “What’s like to make notification?” and comments “It must be terrible to have to tell the family”. The notifications are as Mr. Zorn states “drama in its most distilled form”. It is more emotionally raw from the inside than you can see from the outside. The emotion becomes palpable, “alive”. You hear of all the plans that were made, but won’t be fulfilled; all the plans not made because the time was shorter than they thought. These are “life changing” events for the deceased’s family and friends, as well as for those doing the notification. It makes them sound so clinical, so sterile, to call them notifications, but they are “messy” events, flowing as they will, drawing everyone in to an experience like no other. You don’t get used to them. You don’t get “better” at them. Each is different; you approach them with empathy and go with the flow.

If these “tragedy notifications” are on the “news” they are there for “entertainment”. My advice is to stick to the “emotional pornography” in fiction and historic non-fiction. Going after it happening today is too voyeuristic for my taste, my comfort. I’ve been there and it isn’t entertainment. But we are humans with our base “appetites” and someone will always be there to feed them.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

This is the response I posted to the Trib article:

I don't think you guys give the human race enough credit. When somebody dies unexpectedly, it tears at the fabric of our society. Going back to ancient times, we all had a stake in such matters, as the death would no doubt have changes, perhaps dire, to our clan. We have evolved a powerful connection to each other. We have a primal need to participate in each other's dramatic moments. What has happened is that in the last two centuries, mass media has expanded our senses to encompass the whole human race; but it's happened so quickly that we have not evolved-away our empathy for the grieving survivor who is too distant to be of any practical importance to us. The other aspect of this is empathy for the notifier -- we all wonder how we would handle the notification if the job fell to us and would we be as brave and as compassionate as those who do it day in and day out (we fear, of course, that we would fall to pieces). I don't see any of this as "emotional pornography". It all sounds perfectly normal, natural, admirable, and healthy to me. What are we supposed to be, a bunch of calloused sociopaths who don't give a damn?