20 November 2015

losing the power to shock

Over the past few days I have read a range of news articles which, as recently as fifteen years ago, would have shocked me; seen images which ought to have sickened me, yet in 2015 they have become commonplace to the extent that I barely alter my facial expression as I click and browse.
Reporting of events such as 9/11 set a new standard in what was considered decent. Slow motion video of planes disappearing into tall buildings was played in endless loops. Jumping victims were seen and discussed and the expressions of ground-level witnesses examined. Since then, what 'goes' is frankly, anything.
I don't think perpetration is entirely worse nowadays but with Internet news media beamed into even the darkest recesses of the Earth's wilderness, everyone sees it and often within minutes of its occurrence.
To send a message with the correct degree of cruelty it seems shooting with a bullet is no longer sufficient. More monstrous actions are necessary. Beheading for example. The Daily Mail and others (tastefully?) pixelate the bleeding neck stumps and the detached heads but frankly the unedited images are only a click or two away, for the vaguely curious.
I know atrocities have been happening since the beginning of recorded time but never in my lifetime has the media's assessment of the public's appetite for the horrific been higher. Many aspects of life are becoming extreme: language and brutality for two. It might be argued that giving column space and cyberspace is fanning the flames.
I read about a woman who blew her own head off with a suicide vest; a taxi driver who pulled his own head off by attaching a rope from his neck to a lamp post and driving off fast; and about a teenage girl who was murdered and dismembered by her stepbrother, the head found in a grocery bag. The removal of a head is the ultimate insult and outrage to put it at its very mildest. It is the pinnacle of horrific acts which can be done to a human, yet I am no longer shocked.
There is an ugliness rampant in modern news and its reporting so perhaps it's no coincidence that we eventually suffer compassion fatigue. However there remains an odd phenomenon. Certain acts are so hideous, strike so directly at the heart of humanity that the world rises up with a single voice. I first saw this with the death of Lady Diana Spencer; an outpouring of grief such as had never before been seen. Days of wailing and sobbing in the streets and a funeral with the grandeur and solemnity normally reserved for Kings and Queens. Yet almost all the mourners never knew her personally. It was the death of an ideal which struck home and which triggered this gut level compassion. And it happened again recently in Paris.
So there is still a point at which that raw nerve is touched, it just seems deeper and harder to locate.
The Catholic generation before me would have had a combined heart attack at the mere utterance of the words priest and boys in the same sentence. Now, despite the ugly betrayal of innocence by organised religion, we tend to roll our eyes in a 'what can you do' way.
Since revealing and examining the sexual proclivities of religious types, the media and seemingly with a curious degree of reluctance, the police, have moved their attention to celebrities. Mostly has-been comedians and entertainers from the seventies and eighties. I was staggered when the first names were dropped several years ago. But now the list of household names who were once omnipresent on British TV screens is long, and I am no longer surprised by new announcements.
Mankind is capable of great leaps forward in thinking and endeavour but it appears that shock and reaction are the two behaviours that have evolved most rapidly in the 21st century.