By Alina Yalmanian
January 7, 2015 is a date that may ring a bell to some. It was the day that marked the Charlie Hebdo attacks. Most of us—especially people linked to France in some way or another—will remember exactly where we were when we found out about it. I remember stepping out of the classroom and checking my phone to see the news alert. My phone kept buzzing every few minutes with updates on how the situation was evolving and how it was being handled. But what will forever be engraved in my memory, is how the next day as I set foot into school premises, a black flag had replaced the French one that usually hung under my school’s name. During my eight hours of classes that day there wasn’t a single teacher that did not address what had happened the day before, with some teachers even choosing to dedicate their hour to talk to us and answer any questions we had. At midday the speakers in the classrooms boomed with the voice of our headmistress reminding us of the values we stand for and the rights we should fight for; she then asked for a minute of silence. We all saw #JesuisCharlie trending on Twitter and Instagram and people adding the French flag to their Facebook pictures.
I will never forget how people all around the world showed solidarity; the same can be said when the shocking and tragic incidents of November 13 happened in Saint-Denis and throughout Paris. At my French school in Austria, these two events meant that now there would be soldiers standing at the gates of our school and patrolling the school premises. At first it was weird and scary; I thought I would never get used to the idea of needing soldiers with their guns and dogs to protect us at school. Eventually, I started getting used to it after all, and by the end of my last year at high school I barely noticed the soldiers. It just became the new normal.
The problem is that this shift is not something that only happened to me in my small world; it is something that can be seen in societies everywhere. Tragedies are not the exception anymore—they have become the norm.
Terror attacks and bad news are something that we have become used to. Paris, Manchester, London, Stockholm, Barcelona, Mogadishu, Las Vegas, Sutherland Springs. The more recent the attack, the fewer hashtags you see. This may sound silly but think: there is no way in denying that social media is the place where we share our thoughts and feelings the most, which is why it makes sense to turn to Facebook, Instagram or Twitter to look at trending topics to see how people react to certain events. My phone did not buzz every few minutes to update me on the developments of the terror attack that had happened in Stockholm, the same way it did during the Charlie Hebdo attacks in Paris. I haven’t seen any trending hashtags or solidarity posts after the shooting in Sutherland Springs, Texas either.
Other types of news stories are not immune to this phenomenon either. Take the refugee crisis for example: remember how the heart wrenching pictures of the boats that were packed with refugees trying to cross the Mediterranean were dominating the news cycle for some time? Remember the picture of the Syrian three year-old boy, Alan Kurdi, whose body was washed up on the beach? When was the last time you thought about it? When was the last time you heard about it on the news? Even if the refugee crisis does not get as much media coverage as it used to, it is still a heartbreaking truth. News cycles blow over, we slowly forget about the issue that was raised for a day or two in the media, we go back to living our lives until the next tragedy catches our attention for as long as a news cycle; but the same cannot be said for those who cannot escape their realities, for those who live the tragedies depicted on our screens.
I believe that sensationalism has a lot to do with that: we have the freedom of expression, the freedom of press, news outlets are allowed to print whatever they want since they are managed by individuals and not the State—but how free are they really? Are they not restrained by what their audiences want? Do they not need to write articles and show pictures that will help them sell newspapers, help them reach a certain number of views? This is where sensationalism comes in. The more shocking the picture and the headline, the more likely it is for news outlets to meet their targets. One of the consequences is that we are constantly exposed to shocking pictures or stories so that we eventually become—or have already become—used to them. Tragedy becomes normal. Along with this comes the fact that we are constantly bombarded by news so that our thoughts and focus change with the news cycle, and news need to change in order for the media outlets to survive. It is a vicious cycle. Sensationalism keeps us from focusing on more than one issue and makes us numb to tragedies.
I am not saying that we should be constantly thinking about all the tragedies that are happening around the world—if we did that humanity would fall into a pit of despair and never be able to find happiness in anything. We should just be aware of the fact that news cycles do not reflect everything going in reality. And more importantly we need to remind ourselves that the bad things happening around the world are not normal. It is not about being sad; in fact there are not enough tears to express how heartbreaking certain things in the world can be. It is about
Not long ago I read a news alert to a friend that said that there had been an attack in Barcelona. Her response was “Again?” not “why?” “who?” or “how many people are injured?” Know that wars and people suffering the consequences of them is not normal. Keep your heart from becoming numb. Don’t let news cycles and sensationalism steal your ability to feel compassion for others. Don’t let bad news and terror become the new norm.
Alina Yalmanian is a first year student, whose origins and nationality are too complicated to be explained in 2 lines. Plays the drums and does martial arts even if she really does not look like it. On the Loose runs the second Thursday of every month.
Image: http://www.abc.net.au/news/2015-01-07/charlie-hebdo-satirical-newspaper-shooting-paris-12-killed/6005524 : Charlie Hebdo Solidarity Protest