Suffering is becoming a common formality in our lives. It surrounds us on a daily basis – in the media, on the street and even internally. We cannot escape it, we cannot hide it therefore the only choice we have is to recognise it. Our society, however has blurred the lines between identifying suffering for sympathy and highlighting it for entertainment purposes. Death and suffering has become seasonalised, Jacque Lynn Foltyn (National University, California) indicates “dead celebrities are more popular than live ones and any unsolved mystery about the gruesome murder of a pretty young female is a sensation”.
It is the media’s duty to inform us on disheartening events that are occurring across the world but tabloids, in particular magazines, tend to over exaggerate the promotion of death and suffering for commercialised purposes. 24/7 news have enabled tragic events to be publicised instantaneously often prioritised in news features for their ‘special-ness’ as they evoke interest questioning society’s sense of morality, ‘‘murders, disasters and car accidents are chief among the headlines…. Death and loss is sensational. It is entertainment’’.
These events are often broadcasted in a frame that resonates “triumph over disaster” to reduce the shock factor presented and try to establish a positive element to the story when it is far from that. The media company’s are more concerned with society’s reaction to these stories rather than the coverage of the incident itself, hence the increase in public mourning which is often fuelled and amplified by the media. Individuals who normally express grief behind closed doors are becoming less common, rather people are uniting in mass to express loss to further emphasise the tragedy of the event.
This can be seen in a number of occasions but in particular the terrorist attacks in Paris last year. Technology has allowed public mourning to transcend all platforms. On Facebook individuals were encouraged to change their display picture to the French colours to indicate respect and mourning although it resulted to nothing in terms of actual financial or health support but it made us feel good right? Like we were making a difference. Through social media platforms tragedy is a 24/7 reminder and a key promotional tool. By supporting those affected businesses can increase their positive brand image. Major corporations place emphasis on this tactic knowns as ’cause-related’ marketing such as KFC supporting Breast Cancer Australia, it shows they are concerned and morally aware but in reality a level of it is fuelled towards their own financial and ethical gains.
Death is not the only melancholy subject promoted for personal gain, poverty is present in reality and continually amplified through marketing platforms. Evidently it is the charities themselves that often resort to emotive tactics such as celebrity endorsements to enhance their brand image and gain further donations. This was seen when Jack Black was brought to tears meeting a homeless Ugandan boy when representing the Charity ‘Red Nose Day’. At the beginning he promised he wouldn’t cry but proceeded to later in the video. This evokes empathy from the audience making them more inclined to donate as a familiar face is endorsing the charity increasing their level of trust. To an extent, however I believe Jack Black expressing ‘real’ emotion was a deliberate promotional tactic of the charity as it resonates ‘true’ human qualities. This is reinforced by studies which suggest “judgments to personally help were positively related to pity… it appears that, in situations that are less emotionally arousing, there may be a direct relation between attributions and helping“. Reiterating the use of emotive tactics gains pity from the audience thus increasing their willingness to donate because they feel guilty and obliged to.
As humans our common response to this continual advertising of death and tragedy is empathy, we begin to place value and emphasis on our loved ones and living conditions but in turn we are recognising ourselves rather than the issue at heart, therefore does that make us selfish or grateful? This is where the lines become blurred. In a sense ignoring it makes us naive to the situation but promoting it also questions our intentions for personal gain. Death and tragedy cannot be escaped but I do believe we can recognise it without making a promotional spectacle out of it.