Why does the world love disaster porn?

By Bhushan Salunke
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The Devil’s Advocate, serving you a cocktail of humour, wit and sarcasm

News of the devastating bushfires in Australia has reached all four corners of the world. My overseas contacts are constantly ringing me to find out if I’m ok, thanks to media commentary on the ravaging fires.

Images of blazing fires, dead koalas and kangaroos, weary firefighters, and ravaged properties are making the rounds on social media and these images are forwarded as soon as they are received by the recipients, in the hope that it could somehow help in slowing down the fires.

Judging by the enthusiasm shown in furiously forwarding videos and images on the internet, it appears as if the people of the world want to occupy front row seats, with a bag of popcorn in tow, and watch Australia crash and burn.

Do humans have a morbid or ghoulish desire for disaster and the death and destruction that accompany it? Do humans get a voyeuristic pleasure out of watching and listening to disaster news? Is social media, which is now available to anyone, enabling and feeding the hunger for disaster news with its sensational reporting?

Apparently, yes. The experts call this behaviour the “Disaster Porn” phenomenon, an over-indulgence in consuming disaster and its related mayhem. Disaster porn is now part of the Australian Macquarie dictionary vocabulary.

The need for disaster porn is so severe in humans that a fake video about the New Zealand volcano eruption went viral, shared by thousands, in which the volcano erupts and destroys towns and lives. What forces us to watch disaster with curiosity and perverseness that we hunger for more, real or fake? The rubber-necking that we all do, while driving past a car crash site, is an everyday example of disaster porn in action.

Wake Forest University English Professor Eric C. Wilson in his book, Everyone Loves a Good Train Wreck: Why We Can’t Look Away argues that being well-informed about dangers and potential dangers helps us survive.

Disaster porn is in the same genre as Poverty Porn, another phenomenon that uses poverty, sickness, and images of malnourished children to satisfy some kind of sadistic viewing pleasure or the gratification of crude basic instincts of humans. Charities such as UNICEF & Oxfam, are accused of using poverty porn to generate donations revenue.

Poverty tourism is a concept which feasts on the misfortunes of people living in poverty. According to Trip Advisor, the most popular tourist attraction of India is the tour of Dharavi slums (of the Slumdog Millionaire fame) in all its glory. It has edged out the Taj Mahal as a favourite tourist destination. WTF!

It is no surprise that Hollywood disaster movies are guaranteed box office hits. King Kong tearing down the Empire State Building, T Rex chewing up vehicles, earthquakes reducing New York to rubble, volcanos destroying towns, and hurricanes ripping out entire towns are binge-watched. TV serials such as “Air Crash Investigation” and others are very popular too.

It is as if we humans have an innate addiction to disaster, just like the porn addiction.

The disaster porn addiction is so real that BBC pointed out to inaccurate fire maps of Australia being circulated on the internet showing areas on the map where there were no bushfires at all. Also, the claim that billions of animals have been killed in the bushfires went unchecked, uncontested and accepted as the truth. Why is there a desire to magnify and glorify disasters and accept all its goriness, without giving it a second thought?

Why does the visual of a pig roasting on the spit, at a party, evoke no emotion but a burnt cuddly koala make one shed tears? Millions of animals are butchered and slaughtered every day for human consumption and yet this is accepted as normal.

The best outcome for disaster porn is the unleashing of human emotions of empathy, kindness and compassion, all apparently dammed up and waiting for some sort of disaster to open the flood gates.

Following the Australian bushfire disaster, charities collected huge donations, raising millions of dollars. People also sewed jackets and mittens for the few handful of remaining animals that survived the blaze. People collected goods, food, and clothing to be donated to bushfire victims. Even the bad boy of tennis, Nick Kyrgios, showed his soft side and played a tennis match for bushfire charity. “Pray for rains” groups were organised.

The best side of human nature, complete with its raw emotions, was on display during this bushfire season.

On the other hand, disaster porn also provides opportunities to people, which are exploited by some.

Celebrities, champagne-popping and jet-setting elites jostle each other to be in the disaster porn limelight. Kim Kardashian tweeted about the bushfire. “Climate change is real,” she said, while sitting in her private jet.

The Golden Globe award ceremony was used by some to turn the spotlight on themselves. Russel Crowe informed the Golden Globe audience about the great Australian bushfires that “absolutely fu$”%ing smashed” his property in Australia. Leonardo DiCaprio, the self-appointed Hollywood environmentalist, pledged to donate $3 million to the crisis. Even Juhi Chawla of Bollywood jumped in with a tweet about her son having donated his pocket money to Australian bushfire charity. Aww! Cho chweet!

Disaster porn brings out the ugliness in politics. Despite these difficult times, politicians use the situation to accuse the government of being responsible for causing the disaster and lighting a fire under the government policies. Political party backed rallies and protests are held to gain political advantage. “Sack ScoMo” is a popular chant among those opportunistic politicians now.

This is an opportune time for climate change activists and social justice warriors to draw a direct link between the bushfires and the global climate change phenomenon and lay the blame entirely at the feet of Australia. There are about 195 countries on this planet. Australia’s contribution to the world C02 emission is about 1%. Activists are demanding that Australia bear the cross for the remaining 194 countries, including the top three polluters, USA, China and India, and to save the planet for humanity by reducing its emission from 1% to 0%. A Herculean task, indeed.

And then there are the weirdos. An anti-domestic violence advocate, Sherele Moody spoke at a press conference held by Greens senator Larissa Waters, where she blamed the bushfires for the rise in domestic violence incidents. She said, “After a cataclysmic event like this, domestic violence peaks. Women become extremely unsafe when, generally, the men return home from the fires and subject them to domestic violence.”

Another group wants to relocate koalas to New Zealand in order to save them from extinction.

Here are a few facts that couch internet surfers in overseas countries and social media users do not know or share, regarding the Australia bushfires:

  1. Bushfires have been occurring in Australia for thousands of years. Australia experiences on an average 54,000 bushfires per annum.
  2. Australia has a “bushfire season” during which bushfires are as predictable and normal as the Mumbai monsoons.
  3. 85% of bushfires are accidentally or deliberately lit by humans. According to NSW Rural Fire Service, lightning was the main cause.
  4. People have been charged, including firefighters, with starting fires. According to NSW police data, 24 people have been charged for deliberately lighting bushfires while 184 people have been cautioned for bushfire-related offences. Queensland has arrested 101 arsonists, Tasmania 4 arsonists & Victoria 43 arsonists.
  5. The years 1926, 1939, 1967, 1983 & 2009 are the five worst bushfires experienced by Australia in its history.
  6. The role of inadequate land management, fire management and hazard-burning programs for containing the spread of bushfires
  7. The role of years of drought & dryness in parts of the country has aided the spread of bushfires
  8. Bushfires are nature’s way of looking after itself; by burning dead or decaying matter, they return otherwise trapped nutrients to the soil. They also act as a disinfectant, removing disease-ridden plants and harmful insects from an ecosystem and help in the propagation of seeds of certain trees

The Australian Academy of Science says that the causes of bushfires are actually complicated: “Bushfires, along with other weather and climate challenges, pose complex and wide-ranging problems. Population growth, climate change, temperature extremes, droughts, storms, wind and floods are intersecting in ways that are difficult to untangle and address.” The Academy calls for improved policies: “Everything, including urban planning; building standards; habitat restoration; biodiversity and species preservation; and land, water and wildlife management will need careful and measured consideration.”

When Australia was under the bushfire attack, global warming struck again mercilessly and punished it with widespread rains. Thankfully, the rains managed to bring relief to the firefighting efforts, cleared the skies and doused fires. The climate change God works in mysterious ways, indeed.

Now, for the perplexing observation. When it rained all over Australia and we all rejoiced, social media did not erupt into rapturous applause. The internet was not awash with images or posts of the happy turn of events. No images of the Sydney Harbour Bridge and the beautiful clear blue skies above it, were in circulation.

Leonardo did not tweet, “Thank you Rain God for listening to my prayers”. Kim Kardashian quietly went back to her normal life of tending after her butt.

If humans want to revel in doom and gloom, why can’t they celebrate joyous moments at the end of the doomsday? Herein lies the answer to the “disaster porn” culture.

Source: Union of Concerned Scientists 2019

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not reflect the views of The Indian Sun

 

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