Profiting From Tragedy

Nine days after the 7.0 earthquake rocked Haiti, bodies are still being pulled from the rubble, people are sick, injured and dying, and gangs are roving the streets of Port-au-Prince.

In the wake of this tragedy, the American public was shocked by the tasteless comments of Rush Limbaugh and Pat Robertson. Rush argued that the earthquake was an opportunity for President Obama to boost his credibility by sending aid to black people in Haiti. Robertson blamed the earthquake on Haiti’s legendary eighteenth-century pact with Satan.

Now, many in the media were quite rightly critical of these comments by Limbaugh and Robertson. On “The Daily Show,” Jon Stewart said of Rush, “You know, I think I know the cause of your heart trouble: you don’t have one.” Stewart was equally critical of MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow for her comments on Wednesday night. Maddow commented that bolstering USAID (the government agency tasked with providing U.S. economic and humanitarian assistance) is a major part of the Obama administration’s agenda, in contrast to “what Bush and Cheney did.” “Congratulations MSNBC viewers,” Stewart joked, “You’re on the right side… of this terrible, terrible tragedy.”

The common factor in all these distasteful remarks is the exploitation of the tragic events–for a political agenda, or simply for attention-hogs like “Rev.” Pat. It struck me, however, that to some extent “The Daily Show” and others like it are profiting from this tragedy as well. Don’t get me wrong: I love Stewart, Colbert and their ilk; our society needs them. But they are first and foremost entertainers, and people saying stupid things about tragedy gives them fodder to produce their entertainment.

Furthermore, the endless news coverage of the tragedy has an exploitative feel to it. We know that it’s bad, terrible, horrible, urgent. But most Americans going about their daily lives can’t do much more than give some money to the relief effort and pray for the Haitian people. Seeing pictures of corpses, the injured, the rubble–we’re a voyeuristic nation of rubberneckers slowing down on the freeway to look at an horrific accident on the other side of the road (or the Gulf of Mexico).

Am I being hypercritical? Do we need to keep the Haitian tragedy in our field of vision so we don’t forget? Granted, but maybe we’ve gone a bit too far.

Enough for now–I’m going to go link to this post on Facebook so my blog gets lots of traffic.

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About Benj

I’m a native North Jerseyan, exiled to the land of Phillies fans…an Old Testament professor and former liturgist…husband to Corrie…father to Daniel and Elizabeth…eldest sibling to three, brother-in-law to Josh and Hannah…uncle to Marshall.
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3 Responses to Profiting From Tragedy

  1. Susan Giffone says:

    I think we need to make an effort not to be voyeuristic. If I already know about the tragedy and am doing what I can about it, there can be no need to look at pictures of unfortunate victims in their must vulnerable moments. What about respect?

  2. Pingback: Best of 2010 | think hard, think well

  3. Pingback: Too Soon? (or, When Is It OK to Comment on Tragedy?) | think hard, think well

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