Gary Littman


Garry Littman is the owner and director of The Language House in Geneva which organises English language training for professional people, companies and students. He was a radio and newspaper journalist in his native Australia and ran a restaurant in Kathmandu in his younger days. He is an English language trainer and an aficionado of pétanque.

July 2014: A great month for disaster porn

IF there was a World Index for Conflict, Disaster, Despair, Misery and Resignation, it would have reported a substantial rise in the month of July 2014.

We excelled in disasters and bloodshed, tyranny and war and terror. This, of course, meant it was a killer period for the media which is at its most profitable when translating unspeakable tragedy into highly watchable images.

Flight MH-17 and Gaza fed us copious amounts of disaster porn; a term that describes horrific and tragic images on a 24 hour loop, constantly driven into your head.  You can't turn your eyes away, you keep coming back to it, you are never fulfilled, and you feel bad inside when you're finished.

We humans are hard-wired to conflict and disaster and the media loves to force feed it to us. We are fascinated and obsessed with doom, gloom, and gore. The Israeli-Palestinian war is the perform storm of conflicts. We are lost in decades of repetitive violence and vitriol, no closer to peace, and with each chapter the media coverage gets more and more graphic.

The ancient Greeks had their tragedies in the form of plays with developed text and characters, and we, as children, had our graphic and often dark fairy tales. They told us how stupid, violent, inhumane, sexual, enraged and blind we could be. But they also allowed some space for compassion, therapy and education.

The Greek tragedies were historically performed once a year. Today we have air crashes, wars, school shootings, suicide bombers, serial killers and shark attacks streamed into our consciousness every hour, every day, non-stop.

Alain de Botton writes in his book The News – A User’s Manual, that the news has replaced religion as a modern society's source of guidance and authority to become its "prime creator of political and social reality".  He said we have become addicted and need to recognise its ill-effects, including the "envy and the terror" that it promotes.

Other commentators claim, our morbid curiosity for tragedy has an evolutionary function.  In his book, Everyone Loves a Good Train Wreck: Why We Can’t Look Away, Professor Eric G. Wilson writes:

Being well-informed about dangers and potential dangers helps us survive; finding points of empathy through which we can connect with those who have suffered allows us to build lasting bonds.

Perhaps we have passed this point. We are increasingly over-informed about the perverse (especially on the internet) and under-empowered.

Disaster porn and often the news in general can leave us in a state of low-grade anxiety and greatly exaggerate our sense of danger. Much of the mass media and politics instil fear into its consumers; whether it be terrorism, Obama care, immigration, abortion, taxes, crime, drugs, gangs etc…

We are powerless witnesses to horror, which is further complicated by the knowledge of our mortality and our naive belief that we have control over our lives. Are we emotionally equipped to deal with being passive and daily witnesses to horror?

People, like this writer, who devour the news are called news junkies (a junkie is originally a slang term for someone addicted to heroin, but now it is a general term for anyone consumed by an addiction).

Writer and thinker Rolf Dobelli, says news is to the mind what sugar is to the body. News is easy to digest.

The media feeds us small bites of trivial and horrific matter, that don't really concern our lives, we are powerless to act upon and don't require thinking. That's why we experience almost no saturation. Unlike reading books and long magazine articles (which require thinking), we can swallow limitless quantities of news flashes, which are bright-coloured candies for the mind. Today, we have reached the same point in relation to information that we faced 20 years ago in regard to food. We are beginning to recognise how toxic news can be.

Being informed is considered a necessity, but it may have a price.

Patient: I am suffering from anxiety and depression

Doctor: Stop watching and reading the news.






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