Several years ago, I was sharing hotel space with someone. I find hallway noise distracting, and since we were both focusing on our computers, I asked if she minded my turning the television on.
I just want the background noise.”
As a woman who had lived alone for quite a few years, I appreciate the illusion of company that a television show gives me. It is easier for me to half-listen to a fictional conversation than it is to half-listen to music (the latter tortures me with ear worms for days). I am especially fond of shows that sound like old-fashioned radio plays, where I know the characters and can follow the storyline without really having to watch–much like I enjoy listening to audiobooks now while I walk or cook.
In this case, the show was a popular crime drama that focused on why people did the things they did, and what kinds of things in their backgrounds may have led to them committing their crimes. Of course, the heroes got the bad guys, though victory sometimes left residual scars.
“You really don’t watch it, do you?” said my acquaintance after a few minutes. We turned the television off.
Later that year, she told me details of horrifying stories from her childhood. People can be wretched towards each other, this we know. Listening to her, I understood, painfully, why that particular show bothered her.
Perceptions and perspectives change when fiction and real-life collide like that.
That drama is still on the air, but seldom in our home. I’ve realized how much darker it has become, and I’ve wondered why I hadn’t caught on to it sooner. I’ve seen snippets from the first season again. It wasn’t as graphic, sadistic or upsetting, to be honest. As the viewing audience–people just like me–became accustomed to it, the ratings probably started to slip, and the producers nudged the violence and realism. I became accustomed to that as well.
I didn’t realize it until I did a comparison of the first season to the tenth. My lack of discernment angered me. My blasé attitude towards appalling behaviours humbled me, and subsequently challenged me.
It takes energy, however, to be aware in real-life, and the sad truth is this: I don’t always want to expend it on the important things.
Last year, for example, I was quite upset over the plight of a little boy dressed in red and blue. His “iconic” photo was cropped and meme’d and sent over ever social media network until a more important celebrity knocked him out of circulation with another “break-the-internet” selfie. Now there is another “iconic” photo of another child making the rounds.
I’m struggling with empathy fatigue here. It isn’t that I don’t care. I do. Deeply. Yet I’m tired of having my emotions bombarded, manipulated and twisted.
The thing I can’t resolve in that photo are the two men we seldom talk about, the ones in the top right hand corner, the people cropped out in favour of the more emotion-tugging little boy who looked as though he was sleeping instead of drowned. These men who appear to be discussing the weather, who seem to be doing nothing but standing around with a fishing gear leaned against the chair, as though nothing out of the ordinary was happening.
Just like it was with my friend that day, the background noise is the problem.
The question is whether or not I’ve become background noise too, and if I have, has it changed me?
Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.