On August 26, 2015 a video surfaced online of a former reporter shooting his colleagues, Alison Parker and Adam Ward, while Alison was conducting an interview with the third victim Vicki Gardner, who is thankfully in a stable condition. Sadly, Parker and Ward died at the hands of the gunman. When the news and the video hit social media, it was replayed, shared, and retweeted by anybody who was able to get their hands on it. Parker and Ward’s murders became immortalized and visible for all to see.
Of course, the video of the shooting being shared in such heavy numbers should not come as a surprise to anybody. With the age of social media here, it has become easier than ever to watch and share videos of shootings, beatings, and any other form of violence we can get our hands on. We have become voyeuristic in our mourning.
The video has since been removed from many news sites and youtube for being “too graphic”. However, that has never stopped people from finding ways to share it. The interesting thing in this case is that videos such as the one of a young black girl getting slammed to the ground by a police officer or any of the other videos showcasing police brutality have not yet been removed. In fact, when Mike Brown was murdered by Darren Wilson on August 9, 2014 the picture of his lifeless body began circulating and one year later is still going strong.
Picture of lifeless bodies from war-torn countries, victims of groups such as ISIS, and videos of teenagers (usually brown and black) engaging in fights are mass shared and consumed by the American audience.
Some have said that the sharing of these videos allows people to empathize easier with the victims. But I have to ask, if our empathy is dependent on viewing graphic content then how much empathy do we even hold. Are we only able to cry for our fellow man when the pictures and videos of their battered and/or murdered bodies are available for our consumption? Is our empathy really that limited that we simply cannot feel sorrow and mourn the victims without viewing their pain as if it’s the newest blockbuster film.
Our obsession with violence and watching it play out has only increasingly grown with our increased use of social media. The easy access makes horrifying real life tragedies appear in front of our phones, tablets, and laptops with a simple click of a button and provides us with a quick adrenaline fix. In this attempt to make empathy easily accessible for our fellow humans, we have simply become desensitized to violence and some of our fellow humans have even found a perverse enjoyment watching violence play out.
The desensitization to the violence is even further increased when it comes to the most marginalized, brown and black bodies. Respect for the dead and/or the injured and their families is a thing of the past. The ability to mourn in peace without being subjected to graphic pictures and/or videos of persons is no longer an option. Everywhere we turn and no matter which social media site we chose to go on, extremely graphic videos are plastered all over in an effort to “empathize” and “humanize” victims of violence.
Is creating empathy the end goal of our obsession with mass consumption and hyper-sharing of graphic media or is it just that we have become some desensitized to the violence that overwhelms our current society to the point where even the most shocking of the media barely phases us? I’d bet on the latter. When our need to share graphic media of victims of violence has surpassed our innate ability to have empathy, and more importantly respect, for a fellow human and their loved ones, what kind of society have we even become?