Sunday, April 28, 2013

Peace must be built on truth nurtured by reality

Boston Marathon Bombing Memorial
Boston Marathon Bombing Memorial (Photo credit: AnubisAbyss)
Once again, life in our seemingly peaceful nation has been shattered. This has to stop. Perhaps it would if we could just start being honest with ourselves. Perhaps we aren't living in a peaceful nation after all. Perhaps life in 2013 America simply isn't what we perceive it to be. Just like the alcoholic, we must first recognize that we have a problem before we can ever begin to solve it.

One thing is for sure--our problems will not be solved by censorship--not by the media and certainly not by our elected officials. The notion that a few have the authority to 'protect' the rest of us is just, plain wrong. We are all in this together. Give us the information and we will make our own sense of things. 

People should have choices. If some want to live in a bubble where life is beautiful all the time, so be it. They have that option to simply turn off their television sets, not read newspapers, and not contribute anything to the life we all share on this planet. Personally, I think that is irresponsible, but that's just me.

It has been nearly two full weeks since the Boston Marathon bombing and I am still trying to sort out how I feel about it. I know I want my psyche to forget the images I've seen. I don't want to revisit them  uninvited in my sleep or during quiet moments. I don't want to close my eyes and see a person grimacing in pain, dazed by the horror of seeing his own legs ripped apart from a bomb blast. I don't want to see a bloody sidewalk where lives were lost on what began as a pleasant spring day. I don't want to witness the face of an attractive young man only to learn that his is the face of a terrorist bent on killing innocent people. I don't want to hear the deafening explosion that changed lives forever or the cries of the wounded. I don't want to hear the hail of gunfire on a suburban street in a seemingly civilized country. But that was the reality of April 15, 2013 in Boston. 

What I want is for these kinds of things to never happen again; I want no one to ever have to suffer. Reality has been much too ugly of late, but it doesn't have to stay that way if we all work together to change it.

As much as I deplore the raw scenes I hate seeing, I know they were necessary to convey the story--a story that must be told. If we are ever going to change today's reality, we have to be inspired to change. There is no denying that we were inspired to catch and punish the perpetrators. Like darkness brings light; our pain must bring about our peace. 

News isn't always pretty, but it is reflective of life, which isn't always pretty either. So just what kind of responsibility does the news media have to present information to the public? That question has been made much more difficult with the advent of cell phone cameras and social media where everyone thinks they are a journalist. The phenomenon has even been given a name--citizen journalism. I'm here to tell you that everybody isn't a journalist. Everybody isn't a photographer. Most of the people driven to play Lois Lane and Jimmy Olsen are more akin to the National Inquirer than the New York Times. Don't quit your day job folks--even good journalists are out of work these days.

How to handle graphic images are just one more topic for the staff in newsrooms across the media spectrum. Their decisions are compounded by knowing the images will be caught on somebody's cell phone and posted on Facebook, Twitter, and elsewhere. Raw footage is hard to compete with, so some professionals don't bother trying. 

Some get around it by completely doctoring images to make them appear less violent. Isn't that dishonest? In my view, that is a cowardly and untrustworthy manipulation. It shows a complete lack responsibility and shows no respect for its audience.   

Other more professional journalists might consider cropping such images, artfully, while not taking away from the story that needs to be told. I believe that is honest. Even knowing that images are available, if I ran a newsroom, I would never try to compete with on-the-scene photographs. If professional journalism is ever going to stand above the online picture-takers, there is going to have to be an adherence to trust, accuracy, and all the other tenets of journalism that have earned credibility. 

I think we need to have it both ways. I believe the truth can be conveyed without quite so much shock value, yet this incident took place in full view of thousands of people who were horrified by them. Telling a news story is to convey that horror to viewers and readers. Often times the words can be just as telling as the pictures, as was evident during the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting on Dec. 14, 2012 when 20 first graders and six adults who worked at the school were assassinated by a crazed gunman. Pictures of the tiny bodies were not seen, but the horror was just as palpable. 

For me, the bottom line is that news must never be censored, even if photographs depicting the reality of a scene are considered offensive by some. 

The same is true for suggestive images or specific words. Network television is the worst. I am here to tell you there is no need to protect us from the things that we see and hear everyday. 

One thing that comes to my mind about censorship and the lengths the media will go, is the time delay on live television ever since Janet Jackson's 'wardrobe malfunction' during the half-time show at the Super Bowl a few years ago. The network went half crazy because Janet Jackson's boob was seen on television. Everybody has boobs. We've all seen them. What is the big deal? 

Then there are those seven dirty words the late, great George Carlin talked about. Have you heard what kids say on the playground lately? We now use the term 'f-bomb.' Oh please, can we grow up now? 

I'm not sure just what it says about a society that will accept seeing a man's extremities blown to bits, but Janet Jackson's boob better not be out there for public consumption. Except that it is! Just google it. We cannot say 'fuck' on television, but we can sing it in songs? 

Our society needs to grow up. If we cannot solve these little things, how are we supposed to be able to keep ourselves safe from people who want to do us harm? 

I think our first task is to recognize there is indeed a problem. Before we start worrying about other people, we need to look to ourselves. The very least we can do is attempt to be honest with ourselves. And by all means, let's keep it real.
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