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Lyrics and Life

 

By Caitlin Ward

01/21/2015
Anonymity is the New Fame
Frankel

Tie a rose to the satellite, the petals fill the sky
And put your arms around everyone you don’t want to die

Make a sign that reads, there’s nothing here to see
And fill the void with a hole, a whole bunch of vacancy.

’Cause haven’t you heard that anonymity is the new fame?
And didn’t you know, we’re on the losing end of the winning game?

Tear a piece of string from off your family dress
And blow it in the wind, because you know that you’ll never miss it

’Cause haven’t you heard that anonymity is the new fame?
And didn’t you know, we’re on the losing end of the winning game?

Tie a rose to the satellite, the petals fill the sky
And put your arms around everyone you don’t want to die

Is it just me, or does it seem that 2015 has got off to an inauspicious start? Massacres in Nigeria, a shootout in Paris, bombs in Yemen and Colorado Springs — “inauspicious” is likely an understatement.

There are conversations to be had about each of these things. The shooting in Paris has given rise to a conversation about freedom of speech, coupled with a quieter but maybe more pressing discussion about the difficult experience of being Muslim in France, a country that is not amenable to that culture or the religion from which it springs. The bombing at the NAACP office in Colorado Springs has continued an ongoing and long overdue conversation on race relations in the United States. The massacre in Nigeria is, I hope, forcing a conversation in the world at large about the ongoing bloodshed at the hands of Boko Haram. And Yemen — I don’t know. I haven’t heard as much about Yemen, and nor have I read much. What I’ve mostly heard about Yemen is that no one is talking about it, though it took place on the same day as the Paris shooting.

I might be reading the wrong sources, mind you. What I have noticed, though, is that the coverage of the majority of these tragedies has been compared to the coverage of one of them. After the initial shock of each and the initial reporting of each, commentary — formal and informal, in print and on Twitter — has asked the question, “Why has this tragedy not been reported on as much as Charlie Hebdo and Paris?” I’m pretty sure that’s a rhetorical question.

I’ve been thinking, though, that its answer is not quite as self-evident as I, personally, had initially presumed. It’s easy to say that the media doesn’t care about lives that are not white and male and middle class, and that’s why these other tragedies have not received as much scrutiny from international commentators.

I don’t know if that’s the case — and I don’t know if what I’m about to say is incredibly optimistic about people or incredibly cynical, or somewhere in between. It might be both. It might be neither. But here goes: I don’t know if it’s that people don’t care about these other tragedies. I think, perhaps, that the Paris shooting has been considered more newsworthy because it really is more shocking to us here in the western world.

Now hear me out and bear with me. This requires explanation.

When I say this, I don’t mean that these other tragedies were expected, or warranted, or simply a matter of course. I do think, though, that one of the major reasons this shooting has got more coverage than these other tragedies is because it’s actually astonishing to us that white, educated, middle class men in a wealthy country would lose their lives over something they’ve said or drawn. That just doesn’t happen very often.

I think the coverage bears me out: of the 12 dead, the names and pictures that have come up over and over have overwhelmingly been of five white men, except when it’s specifically relevant that two Muslims were killed, as well. And yes, those five were cartoonists, but seven other people died.

There’s a particular kind of privilege that tends to insulate white, educated, middle class men from that sort of harm. In fact, the writers of Charlie Hebdo had to go very far out of their way to offend people before it became this violent. That is not to say, of course, that the shooting was deserved, or a fair response. But in contrast: the people in Baga, Nigeria, or Sanaa, Yemen, just had to be going about their business in the wrong place at the wrong time because those cities are generally in more difficult circumstances than is Paris. The bombing outside the NAACP office in Colorado Springs was thankfully unsuccessful, but what were they doing that warranted getting bombed? I’m not an expert on the Colorado Springs office of the NAACP, but I’m betting they were doing something that involved advocating for social change and equal opportunities for people of colour in the United States. And that? That really shouldn’t be offensive. It shouldn’t be something worthy of being bombed.

When I heard about that bombing, I was sad. I was disappointed. I was disgusted. I was upset. But I wasn’t surprised — any more than I am surprised when I see the photo of another missing and/or murdered Aboriginal woman in Canada. It’s maddening, it’s tragic, it’s frustrating, it’s awful — but it’s not shocking. It should be. But it’s not. We are used to seeing violence be enacted on certain people, and not on others.

But we shouldn’t be. Violence should always be shocking, and horrifying, and wrong. In a just world, every violent death would yield the same outpouring of shock and grief that the Paris shooting has yielded.

And because of all that, I’m not sure if I should be particularly angry at the media for not covering these other tragedies with the same vigour as they have the Charlie Hebdo tragedy. I think I should be angry at myself, and the world I live in, that these other tragedies didn’t shock me the same way.

Ward is a Saskatoon-based freelance writer who spends her days (and most nights) working at a small Catholic college. Her less eloquent thoughts can be found at www.twitter.com/newsetofstrings