1.17.2010

now for what's really important: how many canadians were killed in haiti?

We've seen this all our lives, and as far as I can tell, it's a practice followed by media all over the globe. But every time I see it, my skin crawls. This morning on CBC: "Canadian death toll in Haiti rises to 8".

In the pre-internet era, I might have thought local-death-toll reportage was a USian thing. "Earthquake in India, 50,000 dead, including 3 Americans! Five New Yorkers trapped in Mumbai airport!" But now that we can easily see media from everywhere, I know that everywhere does it.

I've watched less than five minutes of TV news in the last few months, but I did catch a few seconds of Canadians who were recently evacuated from Haiti being interviewed from Montreal. They were describing waiting at the Canadian embassy in Port-au-Prince, listening to the screams and cries of Haitian survivors outside the gates. These Canadians knew how lucky they were, and I don't begrudge them their rescue. But that gate - separating the rescued from the trapped - is a symbol of so much that's wrong with the world. And "8 Canadians killed in Haitian earthquake" is another symbol of it.

At bottom, it comes down to this. The deaths of "our" people are more noteworthy than the deaths of "their" people, because we are more important than them. Tens of thousands, hundreds of thousands - those are mere statistics. But one Canadian that can be interviewed at an airport is a human-interest story.

13 comments:

Skinny Dipper said...

Focusing on Canadians (particularly white Canadians) or Europeans is nothing new. It has happened before and will continue to happen.

Who can forget this kid from the tsunami? http://www.smh.com.au/news/world/orphan-karl-forges-a-brand-new-life/2005/12/25/1135445486641.html

Who can remember the others? Not many can.

Years ago when and Air India plane exploded over the Atlantic near Ireland, most of the victims were seen as Indian even though a majority of them were Canadian.

L-girl said...

Focusing on Canadians (particularly white Canadians) or Europeans is nothing new. It has happened before and will continue to happen.

That's why I wrote: We've seen this all our lives.

Does anything about this post imply I thought this was new???

L-girl said...

Who can forget this kid from the tsunami?

I never heard of him.

redsock said...

The deaths of "our" people are more noteworthy than the deaths of "their" people

This is also obvious in the deaths, displacements and ruined lives in Afghanistan.

From 2002 to the end of 2009, 138 Canadian soldiers had been killed. One estimate says nearly 900,000 Afghans have been killed.

Some Person said...

I defend this kind of reporting based on a very refined and justifiable moral calculus.

Us > Them

I rest my case. :armscross:

M@ said...

Monty Python satirized this very nicely back in the 60s. (Video here.) They were reacting to the BBC's "no Britons were involved in..." story lead-ins. Apparently it did lead to changes in how the BBC presented those stories.

It's another reason I've never been good at journalism: everything requires a local angle. When I was interviewed about my last book, they always wanted to know the names of the soldiers from the paper's city. I could always say, yes, there were three soldiers from Guelph, but I couldn't say who. I could tell it frustrated the reporters.

I don't like it at all but I'm probably suckered by it as much as anyone. Cheap marketing ploys are used because they work.

L-girl said...

Cheap marketing ploys are used because they work.

Right. And like all marketing, these stories shape the way we think about the world. The focus on the local is only partly giving the customers want they want. It's also creating and reinforcing what we think we want, and reminding us of what's important.

And like most marketing ploys, the more we make the tricks visible, the less susceptible to them we are.

I think that's one reason (of several) I get pissed at the "this isn't new" comments people leave. We want to stay conscious, aware, reminding ourselves and each other all the time, making the invisible visible.

deang said...

I get annoyed with the "this isn't new" and "it's always been this way" non-responses as well. They seem like cynical excuses for not doing anything about the problems. And sometimes, when you look into it, you find that what's being claimed as an eternal verity hasn't always been the norm, that there are changes through time and differences in cultures.

L-girl said...

I'm glad to know it annoys someone else! It also irks me (perhaps unreasonably so, I don't know) because who really writes about anything completely new and original? This blog reflects what's on my mind. So if what "has happened before and will continue to happen" isn't good enough to read about, then move along.

M@ said...

I get pissed at the "this isn't new" comments people leave.

I know, I know, you've said that before.

Hah! I am so funny etc. No, I am with you and Deang. My father is a master of this kind of dismissal and it takes a conscious effort on my part not to do the same. But I try not to be the "heard it before" guy.

And you've provided a very good reason not to respond that way -- we have to keep things in our consciousness to avoid becoming complacent. Very good point and well said.

L-girl said...

Yeah, I'm always trying not to be the [whatever] girl. All we can do is stay conscious and try, I suppose.

Unless there's a lot of wine on hand, then I go for unconscious.

johngoldfine said...

I really do take your point, l-girl, but without trying to start a disagreement, I can't agree.

It's a writing issue. Many people can't imaginatively enter a story unless it has a parochial link. They won't eat the bread unless it has some butter and honey smeared on it.

When our daughter came out of the sky from Saigon to Swanville Maine in the early spring of 1975, the papers wanted to do a story, which we refused, but people came by the house, people we hardly knew, who wanted to talk about Vietnam--and her arrival, which they had somehow heard about, was the catalyst.

Maybe they were just showing prurient curiosity about this one local example of a baby from the babylift they'd seen on network news, but it didn't feel that way. It felt as though the one human face freed them from the necessity to sound informed, important, intelligently-opinioned, things they were too shy to sustain, and instead allowed them the chance to talk about big things in small way, rather than not at all.

L-girl said...

John, interesting perspective, thank you for that. I'm sure your sense of your neighbours' interest was correct.

As a writer, I certainly do know how one individual story can educate about much larger issues. Almost all my writing has been predicated on that.

I just wonder if there isn't a way to help people value the lives of people in some faraway place, who don't look like us and speak our language, as much as the lives of people who do look like us and speak our language, who just happen to be in that faraway place for a vacation or a job posting. Or have been sent over to that place to kill The Others.

(Also thanks for sharing that about your family.)