I watched a man die this afternoon. Along with thousands, probably millions of other people. What has unsettled me more than the shock of the accident, I think, is how public it was, how immediate the coverage, and how much the coverage was shaped by media as I’ve come to know it.
Within a few minutes, I saw pictures and video online. I actually heard he was dead before I heard about the accident (in the very first stories Kumaritashvili was only “seriously injured”). I watched the video more than once and discussed the logistics of the crash and when he was probably dead with co-workers. Morbid? Yeah. Normal? Also yeah.
Since then I’ve become increasingly uncomfortable by how some outlets have chosen to report the story (looking at you, Huffington Post), and the social media functions that have accompanied that coverage. Video ratings on a clip of the accident? Really? Of course, I’m a consumer of this media, so I’m as culpable as anyone else.
I initially thought, “Can you imagine his mom seeing this?” and then one of the work guys pointed out that she was probably there when it happened. Which was somehow even worse. It feels like there’s somehow sacrilege in there being so little privacy, so little private grief before the rest of the world comes flooding in, and dissecting, and analyzing.
However, as another of the work guys logically noted, it is a spectator sport. All 15 Olympic sports are spectator sports, so spectators are going to be watching. But the second part of that is that our world is media-saturated, so it’s not just the actual sporting event that’s part of the spectacle, it’s everything around it. It’s the luge training accidents and the figure skating scandals and the playboy athletes and who knows what all else that has come and will come to pass.
Really, none of this should phase me. I am immersed in this world almost all the time. I’m not sure why it’s bothering me. Maybe because I’m still old enough to recall when folks wouldn’t have found out about something like this until the evening news, or tomorrow’s newspapers.
Maybe because, though death is not uncommon in my family (and there was one just recently), it all works very differently. Or maybe it’s acknowledging that my eyes were on the story as soon as I heard, just like everyone else’s, even if it didn’t feel right.
At least, by the grace of the same media that unsettles me now, I will cheer and rejoice and indulge my superstitions with millions of others (especially Canadians) when we compete, and when we win. (Particularly at hockey.) 🙂