Thursday, 16 August 2012

A never-ending stream of bloated corpses

I've been struggling for some time, trying to find a polite and socially acceptable way to say this, but I don't think there is one. I think this is one of those things that you must not say, but it bothers me, and I think it needs to be examined. So I'll just say it.

Please forgive me if I offend you, it's not intentional, and I'm probably not talking about you.

A number of people have been flooding my Facebook wall with images of corpses from the war in Syria (and some from Burma). Usually corpses of children or infants, or adults with young children crying over them, or just piles of corpses. Bloating and rotting and covered in blood and dirt and shredded clothing.

They all have two things in common: they're as graphic as possible, and they're posted by people who do not live in the Middle East.

I'm not sure why the posters post them. They seem to be trying to raise awareness, which is a valid concern in North America or Europe or Turkey. People in those countries might forget about the atrocities happening in Syria, because they don't deal with the survivors on a daily basis.

I do. I donate my time and knowledge to teach them English, and give them clothes and food and what money I can. I've been to the refugee camps near the Syrian border and I know that even though I do everything I can, it has little or no impact on the daily lives of refugees in Jordan, much less people in Syria. Or Gaza. Or Somalia. Or Burma. Jordan is flooded with refugees, and I see their desperate situation and confront my own helplessness in the face of it every day.

I don't want to go on Facebook and see a continuous wall of corpses reminding me of these things. That may be selfish. So be it. No one else is going to look out for my mental health. So I deleted a few people who posted nothing but dead babies and unsubscribed from quite a few others, without warning or discussion. Those pictures still come up, but it's not continuous anymore. I'm not advocating pretending the conflict doesn't exist, I just need a break from it.

There's an even bigger problem with these photos and Muslim chain letters: they're graphic to the point of voyeurism, and devoid of context. They're not attached to articles about the conflict, or commentary from people who survived. It's just gore.

And here's where my understanding breaks down. Why do people in other countries post disaster porn? What purpose does it serve, for the posters or the people caught in the conflict, and how does it help? People far from the conflict see the images, slow down and gawk like motorists passing a pileup on the highway, and then move on. They don't stop to help, they just want to have a look at the damage.

I don't entirely buy the 'raising awareness' justification. People think that's why they do it, but I don't believe it's the real, complete reason. This is one of those dark corners of human psychology that we'd rather not look too closely at.

Somebody do a study on this, because I just don't understand.

I'd appreciate comment, but please keep it civil.