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Death, Puppies, And Viral Content – The Case Against Tragedy Porn.

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There’s a fine line between sharing the stories of victims versus pimping out their suffering and death to gain, among other things, a morbid sense of self-righteousness.

At least, I thought there was a fine line. Whenever I go online, all I see is Tragedy Porn. And I’m sick of it. 

What is Tragedy Porn?

In my extensive research (Google), I found no definition of Tragedy Porn but a hell of a lot of descriptions. For the sake of my argument, I’ll define Tragedy Porn as “the framed content & sensational actions that induce negative affect towards victims while inducing positive affect towards the sharer”.

It’s emotion porn that helps those who use it get off on championing death & suffering. Equally as bad, this isn’t an intentionally disingenuous act. Those who do it are sincere (and clueless) in their actions. I want the conversation this post will start to change that.


No. People DO give a shit.

Death by pancreatic cancer or starvation is a tragedy. But comparing the two to highlight the problem of idolized iconoclasts and flawed international policy is…well…ridiculous. Never mind that people can be moved by the death of a person AND the death of a people. Never mind that many folks DO give a damn and find a way to make a difference.

Never mind that we can support great businesses, denounce soulless consumerism, and take care of those in need. All at the same time.

Rather, Tragedy pornographers would prefer us to wallow in sorrow. Fuck that.

Oh I won't forget. I just fucking hate being reminded.

9/11 commemorations have unfortunately become the Tragedy Porn conventions.

I remember an unwavering feeling of disgust on the 10th anniversary of 9/11, but I couldn’t put my finger on why I felt that way. It was only after a few days had passed when I realized that I refused to tune in to any media outlet that would’ve covered the events of 9/11 for one sole reason: I didn’t want to be reminded. It’s not that I forgot. I remember exactly where I was when it happened. I just didn’t want to be reminded…in that way.

I didn’t want to be accosted by those who covertly (though unconsciously) competed to see who could “remember” the best. Who could mourn the best. Who cared the most. Whose words would convey, with swelling pride in country and grand gestures, the horrible feelings we felt that day. Who could wave the flag the highest, the fastest. Who could unwittingly shine a light on that dark truth that it took a tragedy to forge solidarity…

And who would do what I’ve seen done before: use the blowback attacks of former allies to promote not only the disgusting idea of American exceptionalism but racial & religious bigotry all while beating the war drums to fight a never-ending war on an emotion. (My continued thoughts on The War on Fear)

Who honestly believes that remembering pain and suffering is better than remembering the lessons learned from that day onwards? If we truly want to remember the fallen, let’s respect them and their families instead of pimping out their deaths for a few days of feel-good hubris that’s masked as “patriotism”.

Yeah, you know Whitney's name but not the names of all those dead soldiers you just pimped out. Way to make a point, asshole.

And then there’s this shit.

Mind-numbing in it’s vileness. Disrespectful to the extreme. And shared by those folks who don’t have the empathy or the intelligence to see the problem with this photo. Yes, I’m calling these idiots out.

Whitney was a  troubled talent. And our men and women in the armed forces have put their lives on the line for us.

But to claim a troubled talent wasn’t a hero to someone…and that the only “real heroes” are the dead ones…is so unbelievably revolting as to defy explanation. In an attempt to denounce the idiocy of celebrity culture (a valid point), this picture compares the death of one troubled person to the deaths of thousands while dismissing the former and idolizing the latter.

I don’t think the folks who shared this realize what they’re actually doing: denigrating a person (while missing the point about celebrity culture) while also denigrating those who’ve served by lionizing militarism. In an attempt to defend (and define) “real” heroes, they destroyed actual heroes: flawed individuals who fought their own respective battles.

Way to “support the troops”, you “patriot”.

There's a reason you change the channel whenever this ad comes on.

There are better ways to promote causes and empower & protect victims than by unintentionally screwing over both. Really.

This study explains what makes content go viral: high-arousal emotions. Whether  positive (awe, etc.) or negative (anger, etc.), high-arousal emotions make content fly at the speed of light. Equally important, content that promoted a deactivating emotion (i.e. sadness) was less likely to be shared.

Many of you already know this. To those who don’t…did that sink in? I hope it did.

There’s only one way to promote the right kind of causes and promote the right kind of healing for victims and their families.

Tell Better Stories (And Include Resources For Action)
: Evoking sadness clearly doesn’t work. More importantly, attempting to evoke anger while forgetting that your content might evoke sadness doesn’t work either.

It all comes down to telling a better story. And for the love of all things righteous…a happier story. With humor if possible.

On starvation: show me how one person[insert the kid’s name] was able to thrive on the funds from public, private, and/or public-private partnerships. And show me how my own funds can help this kid. Wait, some entrepreneurial kid half way across the world has a cool business & hates Dallas as much as I do? I want to send him money via Kiva STAT.

On 9/11: show me how to fight the disastrous policy and the disgusting people(on both sides of the Atlantic) that caused the blowback attacks. And do this without instilling hubris or fear.

On Celebrities and Soldiers: show me that a “real” hero can be any one of us – a talented yet troubled singer, soldiers and their families, and me. And give me the practical advice and illuminating stories that would nudge me on a path of self-improvement. I just want to be good & do good. You can keep the medals and the glory.

On Puppies: show me how one sick & abused puppy become one healthy sonovagun because of donations from people like me. “Rocket was abused and burned, but now this 3-legged puppy is healthy, happy, and moving around!”. Wait, there’s a three-legged puppy out there that went to hell & back yet is happier than me? God damn it. I cant complain about my life any more, can I? Where can I donate? Rocket is fucking legit.

There are better ways to do the right thing. Just saying…

Written by Varun

February 17, 2012 at 2:46 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

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