Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Va Tech, McLuhan and False Grief

At this moment, on virtually every television channel, stern faced beautiful people are trying to find out 'why'. Looking for motivations, profiling the shooter and his victims. Looking to point fingers. Wendy Cukier of the Canadian Coalition for Gun Control will surely receive lots of opportunities to blast Stephen Harper for being soft on guns.

Grief counsellors have seldom received so much air time.
On talk radio "school shooting experts" (an actual phrase I heard this morning) are explaining how exclusion, bullying and anger lead to such events. Failing to note that this has a correlation of about one in infinity.
They are comparing and contrasting this tragedy with others; looking at how this sad event could have been and others can be prevented.

About forty years ago the first such event occurred - Charles Whitman in Texas. Back before CSI and when 'I Love Lucy' was all the rage on the tube. And there wasn't another similar event until the last decade. And there have been a handful since but observing the media leads one to believe spree murders are common.
What has happened in the last fifty years?

A few years before Whitman climbed the clocktower steps, Marshall McLuhan noticed that TV had the potential to dramatically change the way that people perceived things. He wondered what the effect of immediate access to information, in real time, around the globe would be, and his perception was that this effect would be highly destructive.

He used the phrase "Global Village" to describe this new age, and he did not perceive that it would involve people sitting around campfires singing kumbaya.

He warned of the risks, how "we shall at once move into a phase of panic terrors, exactly befitting a small world of tribal drums, total interdependence, and superimposed co-existence". He described how once we are electronically interdependent, totalitarianism would more likely find a home. He said we would be terrorized by things that that exist only in a virtual form and he intimated that we would have collective 'feelings' for things beyond our own realm of existence.

I have written before that grief is personal, and that all the outpouring of collective grief over the death of a princess or of students and professors at a university thousands of miles away cannot be real.

But media, as it is, has imposed on us an expectation that we must grieve for the victims of this shooting, we must show our compassion or we are somewhat less human.

But as McLuhan might suggest, seeing his percept from the sixties come to be a paradigm, we are less human for doing this.

There are many, many places very close to us that offer opportunities to show real compassion if we have the personal need to do so. Helping out single parents by looking after their kids for a few hours a week. Sharing time with older people or kids. Spending time in hospitals.

Leave false grief to those who are merchants of it - the media - and ignore them.

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