Sunday, April 21, 2013

Commodifying Fear

I have been stewing on this ever since the Boston Marathon bombings happened, since I tend to have a less-than-popular stance on most things. I also had thoughts that I needed to develop into fruition and that took some time and my commute to and from work (some of my best thinking is done in the car) to develop. So, along the same lines of my 9/11 post, I kind of want to tell America, "let it go." I know it sounds extremely insensitive, just a week after the blasts, but hear me out.

First off, this Yahoo! article hit the nail on the head and said so many things I wanted to say. I am not from Boston. Sure, I visit there from time to time, but I'm not a native (I refuse to lump "north of Massachusetts" into the "Boston" area) and I have no emotional tie to the city. Yes, the loss of life and injury are tragic, I'm not denying that. But, I'm not a Bostonian, I didn't leap to solidarity immediately like all of my Facebook friends seemed to.

Let's talk about social media for a minute. I love social media. Amongst my friends and family, I'm probably the most connected, with Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, Yelp, Klout (I still haven't figured that out yet), Tumblr, and somewhere in the black hole of the Internet, a MySpace account still exists. If it's social media, I'm all over it. But this week, I didn't even need to open Facebook on my phone to know what was there. Generic, self-serving "thoughts and prayers" posts, the same five memes shared over and over, offensive racial-profiling, memes offering to pay back violence with violence. It was nauseating, but it also made me think. Early Friday morning the FBI and police had the suspect cornered. There was a live feed, and man, if someone was watching it, they mentioned it-- with up-to-the-minute posts-- on Facebook. All I could do was shake my head and think "why is a live feed necessary?"

As a society, Americans love tragedy. We love being afraid, feeling vulnerable and then rising up in a fleeting display of extreme patriotism ("you can't stop 'Murrica!") while actually sitting safely and without harm in our homes. This addiction to fear has become a commodity. Think back to 9/11: it seemed directly after the attacks, there were American flags everywhere. Apparently, for Chinese flag makers, it was good business:
American flag sales peaked at $51.7-million last year, $34.8-million of it for star-spangled banners shipped from China to meet domestic demand. In the week after the attacks, one of the nation's largest producers of American flags, Annin & Co. of Roseland, N.J., produced more than 50,000 flags -- about 10 times the normal amount. At the Flag Co. in Acworth, Ga., sales of 12- by 18-inch American flags have increased by more than a million in the past year.

$34.8 million for flags. Fast-forward to this past Monday. The dust hadn't settled before people were putting Boston Marathon and Boston memorabilia on ebay to make a buck on the tragedy. Not only were runners selling their medals, but immediately after the bombings, people looted souvenir booths to sell the jackets and other memorabilia for sale. I would hope that people can understand my cynicism toward the whole thing-- and tragedies in general-- when Americans seem to only want to cash in or have a piece of the tragedy instead of actually helping by donating money, time, or blood. We're a nation that's happy to post "thoughts and prayers" to feel better about ourselves but do little else. In part, the media is to blame. There is an over-saturation of media coverage everywhere, to the point that it's hard not to hear about a current event. Unless it's just a fertilizer plant explosion, then no one seemed to care and there was barely any news coverage.

It's okay to feel bad when a tragedy strikes. What's not okay is to cling to it, to linger over the bad feelings and continuously suckle at the teat of media streams for more. Let it go. Take the appropriate mourning period, process what's happened-- get a therapist if you need to-- but holding on to the fear and grief (especially from a tragedy that never directly impacted you in the first place) is not healthy. And for the love of god, stop buying the memorabilia, unless it's going to a legitimate charity!

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