Thursday, January 15, 2009


The spectacle of tragedy has become a part of resolving the problems of our community. A missing child, an unsolved crime, a plea for help, and many others all may go into anonymity and become an unknown drama to the mass public, if the living victims, the seekers of justice, those who try to speak for those who can’t speak do not find a way around a media and a public that has a very distorted lens. It is an electronic public eye that only wants a certain performance that can sustain itself for much too long while others remain offstage.

It is often unwise to attract the media and it creates unnecessary long term issues and concerned people should do so after consulting with lawyers or other experts but it is often the only hope in extreme situations.

Sadly, most tragedies as bad as they are, often do not have the elements to be enticing to a media whose attention can often help resolve the matter through the various resources they can bring to bear including attention and public pressure. People are forgotten. Crimes go unsolved. Perpetrators go unpunished.

The performance the media strives for is flawed. The spectacle they often sustain often has an element of the racist. The wrong skin color can lead to less airtime. The victim on television people are searching for sometimes through no intervention of their own play into an old narrative of innocent Americana. People do not want a real life Norman Rockwell painting interrupted, sullied and bloodied. They become icons in the spectacle of tragedy while other victims become a silent majority.

People in this unenviable position must come up with various strategies to work the media. Their story has to be made understandable. It has to be supported with other events such as vigils and demonstrations. The victim’s family may have to decide who is going to be doing the speaking if they themselves can’t. It becomes a campaign that has to go beyond the immediate goal to larger aims. The best chance to promote something that may not have the legs to draw attention on a permanent routine may be to seek a larger more permanent solution. The case must be linked to the changing of a law or a larger social issue.

Everyone has slowly entered the world of life as spectacle to some degree or another but when time is of the essence the importance of having the establishment media on people’s side is still valuable. It puts a stamp of legitimacy and urgency to a situation. It creates consensus quickly from the top down. Contrary to the myth of a bottom up internet culture where things suddenly rise up to national attention is the millions of messages in the information highway that do not go all that far.

The issue is that it is hard to think in this way when the tragedy is raw. People must be prepared for the worst while hoping for the best. So it is important for everyone to develop the skills, dispositions, and habits that promote social justice in these situations long before these situations occur to them even if hopefully it never occurs to them. After all, it can happen to someone they know personally or from afar in the community. When that moment occurs they can step up and help out.

This is not to say that there are not already organizations and institutions and leaders who are not available. Thankfully over time, the networks of people who can help in these matters have grown. The media is also not a callous two-dimensional monster but are often concerned men and women who do want to help but need to be helped in turn so that the story that they seek develops in a way conducive to their work and concern. The authorities have been criticized a lot in many instances for failures and mistakes sometimes unfairly and sometimes fairly but they are still some of the best equipped to handle these kinds of situation. They too need cooperation. What the common person who one day was minding their own business and the next day were thrust into this situations needs is to quickly understand what they can do and be helped in doing so.

After the case is solved either in a beautiful way or an unfortunate way, those who fought the fight often recede into the background and go back to their lives. It is understandable especially after such turmoil and long lasting pain. They may have personal rituals they continue to commemorate the moment or a memory. This is where they must become aware of a responsibility they have to continue the fight this time not for their own interests but for the next person put in such a situation.

There can be legacies created and missions set up as structures that can go into the future and affect lives for the better long after an initial tragedy. All contributions help no matter how large or small. Before a governor’s stroke of pen makes these structures into law for example, several hands must scribble their signatures on a petition sheet.

So it is important for everyone in our community whether fortunate or not, hurt or unscathed to briefly set aside time away from the repetitious viewing of one spectacle to do what they can for in whatever way for the injustices that are not as documented. It is time to join a march. It is time to light another candle for a vigil. It is time to make a poster. It is time to say what must be said.

Eddie Hernandez

No comments: