I was at Subway the day of the Boston Marathon bombings. It was obviously big news, my Facebook feed brimming with sympathy and counter-sympathy. The murders were a predictable opportunity to discuss gun rights and the War on Terror, after all. Still, at Subway, there was only a tinny radio tuned to Triple M or Nova. The announcer faded out her last song, ready to close the drive time shift with a few final words.

“And that’s it for me,” she announced. “Obviously a truly devastating day for everyone in the studio. I know at times like this, it can seem like nothing will ever be the same. What is the world coming to? Absolutely shocking and devastating.”

Those words stuck in my head. They rang completely false – like somebody reading a script – but that wasn’t the real issue. Old news reels also involved scripts; they were painfully, obviously staged. And why not? Statements are important. We always look to the media in times of crisis, partly searching for the right collective response.

However, if older reports feign a militant, cheerful bravado, contemporary responses are very different. Our announcers seem weirdly welded to a childish innocence, an implausible naivety or cowardice.

“What is the world coming to?”

 

I remember the Columbine school shootings. My grade six teacher had the entire class in inter-continental lock down, whispering sadly to her colleagues and eyeing the kids with a new-found (if completely unjustified) wariness. We listened to the radio, Eric and Dylan’s kill count building throughout the day, and collectively lost our innocence.

Or was that September 11? I remember talking to my friends at lunchtime. We were all chattering and excited, awestruck, faintly concerned that terrorists would hit the tallest structure in town – a four storey water tower.

Of course, it was only a 10 second spot on commercial radio – what more did I expect from Triple M (or Nova, or whatever)? We can’t all fight them on the beaches with Winston Churchill. The poor lady just wanted to finish work, drop by Coles on the way home, and hopefully catch the start of My Kitchen Rules.

Here’s my problem: we’re kidding ourselves. It wasn’t a devastating day in the studio. Nobody there thought the world would never be the same. What happened in Boston was horrible, but we already know horrible things happen. We’re all grown up now, and there’s only so many times you can come of age.

Bad things will happen in the future, but we’ll always keep heart. To pretend otherwise, to constantly feign such punctured innocence, would “condemn us to hope alone.” And hope is not enough. Every tired platitude of shock diminishes our agency ever-so-slightly, gradually infantilising the west, narrowing our possible futures.

The next time something horrible happens (because it will), take a moment before jumping online. Are you really devastated? Shocked? Honestly, are you even surprised?

Take a moment to feel your true emotions. That steely resolve isn’t callousness – it’s honesty. Believe me, the victims don’t want your teary fake prayers.

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