Watching the arrival of the millennium on television for
a 24-hour time period seemed like a good idea to me at the
time. The world became small and intimate as I reflected on
the passing of the twentieth century. I felt a connection
to the first people to experience the year 2000 dancing in
celebration on Millennium Island. An hour later the connection
vanished into the air like smoke from an extinguished candle.
Exhausted from my marathon of countdowns, fireworks, and millennium
celebrations, I thought I was watching a horrendous, dreadfully
long, anti-climatic movie. My millennium anticipation had all
but disappeared by the time midnight hit Eastern Standard Time,
the significance of my own Y2K taken away by hours of televised
Twenty-four hour television news channels, such as CNN, have
made the world smaller and yet incredibly distant.
Two summers ago I was in living in Munich when the untimely
death of John F. Kennedy Jr., his wife Carolyn, and her sister
struck the hearts of people around the world. Although across
the ocean, I watched and waited with the rest of Americans for
news of the search and rescue. Every moment of the search was
televised live by CNN from the moment they were recognized as
missing to their final burial at sea. By the end of it all I
cried. I was haunted by all the grief.
The world mourned the loss of the beloved American prince, but
how did the world lament the horrific torture and killing of
UN protected civilians in Srebernica, Bosnia-Herzegovina. News
agencies from around the world broadcast the 'story,' but little
intervention by nations or leaders was done to stop the gruesome
atrocity from proceeding to its finality. Why did it take so
long for the images on the screen to affect and motivate leaders
to stop history repeating itself when on the hour, around the
clock, news channels brought the story of horror to audiences
all over the globe? Is society able to choose selectively what
will tug at our heartstrings or provoke us to take action?
The affairs in countries like Bosnia and Rwanda happen so far
away; so far removed from the world we live in. But the distance
is no farther than the flood of refugees escaping from Kosovo.
For them the world responded with humanitarian aid and war machines.
What was the difference between television coverage of Bosnia
and Kosovo? Were the images not equally disturbing?
Why do news producers give priority and 24-hour coverage of
stories like JFK Jr.'s death, Princess Diana's funeralor
worse, the O.J. Simpson trialover world crises like the
tumultuous election in East Timor, Indonesia?
Television reduces our world into that box in our living room
and yet at the same time the distance is a world away. In January
2001, the earth trembled in India and thousands were left homeless,
hungry, hurt, and dead. Earthquakes violently shook the ground,
creating rubble out of once standing apartment buildings. For
a few days the images of search and rescue teams digging through
the rubble flashed across our television screens, but then they
just stopped even though the ongoing efforts by Indian people
didn't. Another news event was deemed worthier and India's tragedy
disappeared from our television sets and from our thoughts.
Out of sight out of mind, as the old saying goes.
Naturally, war is not something we readily accept in our version
of the world. Those of us who live in peaceful nations have
no understanding of life in a war-torn country. The nature of
television does not provide for reality; after a while fiction
becomes the main genre. We easily disassociate ourselves from
what is real and cling to the ideals of fame and riches. We
choose not to watch war, bombings, and death on our nightly
news, despite its reality, truth, international consequences,
and threat to freedom.
We cringe in horror at the power of Mother Nature to destroy
the only world we know. Earthquakes and mudslides happen in
a foreign land, not our own. Contradictory is our belief in
a connection and attraction to celebrities we have never met;
it isn't real. The lives of men, women, and children in the
flooded plains of Mozambique should be, but the great distance
hinders a close connection.
The reality is that I wasn't on Millennium Island when the clock
struck midnight at the dawn of 2000, but in the privacy of my
home in Eastern Ontario, Canada. Living vicariously through
my television set, I was part of the event. But I was no more
connected to those people dancing in grass skirts than I was
to families trying to rebuild their lives in Mostar, Bosnia.
Through our television set the world is neighborly and unfamiliar,
connected and removed, real and fictitious, but everything we
seewhether celebrity or civilian--is no further then the
reach of our remote control.
Copyright © 2001 Juli Strader. All Rights
Juli Strader is a writer living in Toronto.