Jeremy's Weblog

I recently graduated from Harvard Law School. This is my weblog. It tries to be funny. E-mail me if you like it. For an index of what's lurking in the archives, sorted by category, click here.

Thursday, July 07, 2005

An interesting e-mail I just got, in response to my post below. Read the e-mail and then I'll comment.

I'd like to recommend a book to you, Mediated: How the Media Shapes Your World and the Way You Live in It, by Thomas De Zengotita ( ). The reason why I'm bringing this up is because there's something in the book that is germane to the way people are reacting to the terrorist attacks in London today.

Basically, what De Zengotita is saying is that our society has been conditioned to be self-oriented by the media, so that when a world event occurs, one of the immediate reactions, especially when being interviewed by tv news on the street, is how I am reacting to this event or that. One of this book's observations is that people are used to being filmed and their egos stroked when a tragedy occurs - they're expected to cry or show sorrow because, on some level, they're performing on the world stage.

This is supremely evident in the blogosphere, where any Joe Schmo with a blog is reflecting to an event that, in the abstract, affects us all, but is only personally pertinent to a small percentage of the population. That begs the question: why do we feel compelled to react and comment about an event that doesn't personally affect us?

Another way of looking at this is when you hear the question: Where were you when (Kennedy was assassinated / 9-11 / other world event)? You never hear this question about Pearl Harbor or Hiroshima. That was a different generation, before the rise of TV and the self-oriented media that targets ME, the consumer/viewer. Nowadays, every person's viewpoint on the street is relevant, no matter how banal such an exchange may be.

I guess the implicit criticism that I'm making is that when we're conditioned - inured, even - to give a 30 second reaction on the 6 o'clock news (or a blurb on our personal blog), we somehow diminish the gravity of said event by making it about us, our reaction, and how well we can portray sorrow in front of an audience composed of our like-minded "mediated" peers.

Your thoughts?

Well, wait a second. This is mixing two different things, I think. TV news clips that ask people unaffected by tragedies what their reactions are -- yeah, pretty useless. But weblogs are by nature about people and their reactions to things, no matter how banal those reactions are. I really don't feel like my paragraph about what happened in London being frightening is particularly inappropriate or diminishes the gravity of what happened. I think it's really cynical to say that people's reactions to things like this are staged. Terrorism is a legitimate fear. I don't think it's illegitimate to feel slightly more afraid today than yesterday, whether you're in London or you're in New York, or Washington, or anyplace else that is a conceivable target of stuff like this. I think there's a real difference between this and the tsunami from a few months ago. I think most of us have no fear of a tsunami, but, at least in New York or other big cities, I think there's a legitimate low-level background fear about terrorist attacks that's not illegitimate to have, and certainly not to blog about. And I don't mean that specifically about my post, which was pretty inoffensive, I think. But if someone felt something today that moved them to write some 2000-word piece about how it affected their life in Des Moines -- self-indulgent, maybe, but not illegitimate. For TV news, sure, I don't necessarily think everyone has a point of view worth sharing, on a medium with limited space and where people have expectations that the things being said have some level of relevance. But on a weblog? This is why weblogs exist.