Somewhat of a Memoir, NINE: Tragedy Porn

NINE

TRAGEDY PORN, although admittedly not a term I coined, is one we collectively suffer from. I was first exposed to this phenomenon at seventeen years old when in 2006 a lone gunman entered my college during my first two weeks in session out of the comfort of my high school with a semi-automatic gun and duffel bag full of ammunition and murdered a student at my school, likely planning on much more damage. I’ll spare you the details but for hours after, my friends and I gathered and watched the SWAT team invade our campus and observed worriedly as the number of people injured grew to about twenty. I watched all the details as they emerged on channels like CNN and couldn’t believe that my hometown, my neighbourhoods, my cafeteria, had gone international. The whole city was engulfed in mourning. In the aftermath the school itself was lined with posters, flowers and candles. It was all anyone could talk about: how they heard, where they were and what happened next. Periodically in the years after, in some sort of twisted sense of nostalgia I have returned to the tribute videos of Anastasia, the young woman from my college whose life ended tragically and much, much too soon and have made myself sob all over again.

I don’t know what comes over me. I remember in 2016 when the Orlando Pulse shooting happened, I was devastated. In the early coverage of the incident, a mother had spoken with a news outlet who was reporting that she had received text messages that ended up being the last she would hear from her son who was barricaded in the bathroom during the active shooting. Eddie Justice is his name. I stayed up until the early hours in the morning to find out if he had made it out alive. After hours of refreshing my phone and the names of victims as they updated from the scene I fell asleep and woke up the next morning to find out he had died. I can hear one personal detail in a tragedy and it just humanizes the whole situation and makes it so tangible and real, not just the narrative and statistics we weave it into. I even watched a press conference with a survivor of the attack describing the events in detail. It’s traumatizing, and I don’t know why I do it, but in some small way it makes me feel closer to them. It helps me understand their trauma and their grieving process and even if minimally, I hope, validates what they have been exposed to and lets them know that most of the time we do not grieve alone, we grieve as a whole, and as they will deal with the events with a particular intimacy of how they happened and the emotions accompanying these feelings, they know that an injustice on them is an injustice against larger freedoms for all of us and we are here to listen and help heal. It’s a matter of compassion.

As if we haven’t been reminded and exposed to enough of the hatred and conflict in our society, people are straight-up making homemade bombs and attacking innocent children at a concert. When there was an explosion and possible fatalities at an Ariana Grande concert in Manchester in 2017, I hoped, and hoped, and hoped that it was an accident, not that it would have made the loss any easier to stomach, but somehow, it may have.

I think that my attraction to Tragedy Porn is my ever-present need for raw and real human connection. I am not one for pleasantries or small talk. My mum once told me that small minds talk about people, mediocre minds talk about events, and great minds talk about ideas. In today’s world I don’t think it is as clear as it was spelled out to me as a child. In areas such as politics, activism, and advocacy a lot of these lines are blurred and it actually is about who went where, what they said, for what cause and what they are representing and certainly as injustices get revealed it is just as much about who did what as it is about the greater state of our world. We are dismantling an arrangement so instilled in us that there is an uprising in all sorts of minorities. People are speaking up and taking a stand for equality and inclusion. Never did I think there would be such articulate and intelligent people speaking on my behalf and those of others and maybe it was a product of limited resources, or just the fact of being young enough that these resources weren’t yet available, to never think there was a problem in the first place.

No longer is there this idea of mass following. There are so many genres, breeds, and niches of thinking that the power structure has been so disturbed to the point of almost chaos and though I am an avid student of cynicism, I do truly to the core believe that this is a good thing all around for the future. The more we think for ourselves and find more critical thinkers who are willing to disturb the status quo, the better we will be able to reveal the problems within our societies and better we will be equipped to deal with this new era of positive revolution.

I try to remain uncontroversial, and I am by no means an expert on the topic but uprisings like this have created huge shifts in our cultures, liberties, freedoms and rights. No movement with this momentum could possibly end up not changing the world, or at least end up shaking things up a bit. They say the three things you should avoid in polite conversation are religion, politics, and money and for the most part I think I agree with this guideline, except when it means exposing corruption, abuse and repression. I prefer to avoid conflict and can be quite non-confrontational on my, believe it or not, better days. There is not too much I feel too strongly about and most of the time prefer to see both sides of the argument and remain somewhat neutral. There are absolutely some things that get my blood boiling and my close friends will know that I can be very opinionated about but it is rare that I am so convinced that I am not willing to see another perspective, or even be so closed-minded so as to never change my mind.

I see men advocating for women, and other citizens involved (or at least outspoken about) politics in other countries, races, religions and orientations. I see allies and protesting partners. I see something really interesting going on in today’s society where we are not just personally affected by the state of the world but we are taking a stand for our fellows. I cried when I heard Milck’s I Can’t Keep Quiet sung by a makeshift choir at the Women’s March. I hear the pleas I didn’t know how to voice in the activists I had never heard of before, and it has definitely happened at least once that one of these advocates brought up something I didn’t know I needed until they put it into words for me to take on as my mission as well.

The more voices we hear, especially from the marginalized, the more exposure we get to people who either have something in common with us to better represent ourselves and remind us that we are not alone, or people who have nothing in common with us awakening us to the huge disparity of circumstances we all live in. It’s important to know that even as we are all humans on the same earth our personal experiences are only limitedly relative to everyone else’s and to remember to champion the voices of positive change. I do believe we have a duty to implement fair representation, fair compensation and equal rights for everyone.

To break the polite conversation rule: spend your money wisely, your dollars are your votes. Buy local, give to a reputable charity, humanitarian or philanthropic mission. Money is the lubricant in this world that gives people the ability to gain power and presence. Money is power and power is politics. Put your dollars where your values are. This doesn’t have to be at an additional cost to you. Spend smarter, on things you are already buying, like on enviro-friendly and local produce. It’s important. I once had a panic-attack at the hospital because someone used non-biodegradable laundry detergent in my wash. I personally can’t think about the consequences of mass consumption too much because I tend to take it too far and it hinders my well being but I definitely try to be conscious of my footprint on the environment and what institutions I give my money to.

One more thing I will also say is be careful where you focus your attention. Clicks on the internet will perpetuate sometimes fake news and I urge you to get your information from reputable sources. Attention is another thing that gives people power. Don’t follow people just to hear the stupid things they say. Don’t give them the validation. There are smarter ways to get the same information without quite literally paying (attention to) the propaganda.

I know that news and media outlets feed on travesty and Tragedy Porn makes them a lot of money. I try to be mindful of this and just for my own well-being need to disconnect at a certain point. There are forsure some events that hit closer to home and these are harder to tear ourselves away from. Keep in mind the appetite these outlets are trying to promote and that they often have motives beyond just relaying the facts. The more viewers they have the more power and money they get so it’s okay to be informed, but don’t get swept up in the incitement of it all.

xxo,

Ashlinn

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