It is no revelation that the news has quite a penchant for reporting death and destruction. We have become quite accustomed to killer diseases, murder, suicide and the possibility of nuclear annihilation daily on our telly boxes.
Just the other day, 14 people had died in the headline stories. That’s pretty impressive for thirty minutes of TV – C.S.I. can’t beat that figure with twice the air time. In fact, I often tune in purely to tally how many people have bitten the dust and by and large I am rewarded liberally. Knowing how, where and why other people are dying seems to be an essential part of what we humanoid sofa clutter need to know in order to operate at our fullest beer swilling capacity.
So people die. 100,000 years of human existence has pretty firmly established that. Around 1700 people die each day in the UK and if you factor in the remainder of the world that adds up to a pretty considerable number; we drop like flies.
Thankfully, the news edits and expurgates these ordinary deaths and leaves us only the goriest and most sensational for our post-work fix. If it’s not people in a far off country being killed by panda flu or some knife wielding psychopath spilling guts left, right and centre, we hear nothing about it.
Unfortunately, unlike our Roman ancestors, who were deprived of televised news, we don’t have the option of popping down the coliseum to watch two people bludgeon and hack each other to pieces – our civilised society would frown upon such debauchery.
Instead, we go to the movies, read Swedish fiction or watch the BBC at 6pm, which appears to sate our hereditary bloodlust. Why anyone would partake in extreme sports is mind-boggling when you consider the exhilaration you can experience sitting on your sofa watching Fiona Bruce break the latest claret spattered story.
People seem to find some kind of refuge in this on-screen butchery. If there wasn’t some Stieg Larssonesque murder mystery on the news all there would be is depressing economy stuff and politicians in their grey suits with grey hair in grey buildings. Grey.
But the news gives us red, and red is better. Even better if that red is somewhere else; Mr Breivik on a rampage in the local park wouldn’t be half as captivating. If anything is a good distraction from your own problems it is other people dying (preferably in a distant country) – because what could be worse than death – right? The national media appears to be suffering from an episode of international rubbernecking and we too are displaying symptoms.
There is however a pencil thin line between our macabre fascination and the fear these reports induce. Astonishing stories being cherry picked by reporters serve only to convince us that our next-door neighbours are serial killers, that terrorists are poisoning our tap water and to generally just scare the bejesus out of us. We have found a comfortable equilibrium somewhere between paranoia and psychosis.
Just because a person goes on a spree like Jason Voorhees on crystal-meth, dispatching virginal teens with gardening tools doesn’t necessarily mean we need to know about it; that’s why they made Halloweenand other such movies. I would prescribe a minimum of 30 deaths to make the national news, but that’s just me.
I’m not saying the deaths of specific individuals are less important, just that they aren’t newsworthy – after all, there were 249,990 something other people across the world that also died that day who won’t be on the news either – several of whom would have died what the media deem ‘sensational’ deaths. Perhaps the readers of OK magazine can mourn a new bunch of people each day but I sure can’t.
Over population is a serious problem; when there are finally some serious inroads made into reversing it they should of course be reported on the tube; the odds and ends however should not be given such widespread coverage; a random gutting or brain bashing is nothing to write home about. Having said that, I’d be an idiot if I thought all deaths which aren’t caused by catastrophes shouldn’t be reported.
True health scares which will affect more than 1 in every 100,000 and that aren’t ploys by pharmaceutical companies to boost sales should be covered and deserve a time of day. It seems to me that by reporting every violent, unexpected or peculiar death the news simply compounds our national neurosis and keeps us glued to our TVs in absent-minded fear.
Photo courtesy of Dradny