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Why you shouldn't feel guilty for following the Boston Marathon bombings

By Brendan Lawley - posted Friday, 26 April 2013

'Twas a Tuesday that started like any other. I woke up and hobbled down the hallway to commence my plank on the lounge room shag. I would sculpt my core while Kochie's Angels on Sunrise sculpted my mind. Perhaps they would revisit their heated debate about the ethics of lending parking permits to non-council residents, or maybe vent their outrage again about council bans on Frisbee throwing in parks.

But I was not greeted with three heavenly mothers; instead there were images of bombs and brimstone in Boston. Normal programming was interrupted. Turns out three people had died. Hold up, just three people? Three people deserved stop-the-clock coverage? I felt the Generation Why reflex sting immediately- 'Why is damn America more important than the rest of the world to us?

This stuff goes down on the daily in other countries and the commercial stations don't even mention it. Shame on you Sunrise and shame on you people who care about this more than the carnage our compadres in non-English speaking nations suffer. We're all human, so WHERE'S THE HUMANITY? It took me a little while, but I realised this is humanity as we know it – and we chose it.


Scrolling and trolling through my Facebook feed, I found quite a few wannabe provocateurs like myself - the chorus of contrarians questioning the status quo had been set off. One 'friend' wrote, "Three people die in Boston and 5 die in Iraq from a bomb but NO ONE reports on that. World is fucked!" I wondered how he found out about it if no one was reporting it. I hunted down what he was talking about and then corrected him, "It was actually 27 who died, bro". "Ah soz," he replied, "I just saw Sky News when changing channels lol".

On Monday, the intern at my work asked me if I was "buying into this Boston bombings bullshit". I initially struggled with the phrase "buying into", I didn't know if it was actually a Chechen Ponzi scheme or if he was saying the whole thing was obviously a hoax, like the moon landing or Delta Goodrem. It turned out he meant 'buying into' the media coverage. "That shit happens all the time other places," he spouted the now ubiquitous youth catch-cry of discontent. A co-worker agreed with him.

All of a sudden three people's lives, and the permanent maiming of dozens of others by a callous act of terrorism was no biggy, because it "happens all the time". In an ever so strange twist of perception it seemed the consensus was that because it's racist or short sighted to care about what is happening in America and not what is happening in Iraq, we actually shouldn't care about any of it. Perhaps fatigue had set in from the underwhelming results of our starry-eyed social change efforts like Kevin 07 and Kony, which both ended with men loving themselves a little too much. It seems the fairest way to live is to apply our apathy equally to all corners of the globe.

But even if you feel powerless to change anything, you've missed out on many levels if you ignored this story. If the Australian media is advertising at its worst then it's infotainment at its best. The idea that newspapers should set social conscience agendas sweat to death when the classified advertising 'rivers of gold' dried up, leaving us with websites that had no choice but to go where the traffic was to stay alive. That meant celebrity deaths, TV show recaps and sport sex scandals always scoring a thumbnail or four on the home page. How can you really hate on a company for shining a light on stories that we have voted for with our clicks over and over? And that's why the Boston Marathon Bombings occupied prime place for the past week.

We love stories that are easy to follow and this was a violent and thrilling movie played out from start to finish before our eyes. Bombs exploding in a crowded city during a world famous running race; casualties, hundreds injured, clear villains caught on camera and on the run; warning signs missed by the FBI, a dead cop; a shootout with explosives; an alleged terrorist using a getaway car to run over his own brother (who may have brainwashed him into the bomb plot); a whole city locked down with no trains allowed out; people told to hide in their basements because of the armed surviving villain on the loose; a shootout on a boat; the bad guy captured alive and paraded down the streets to chants of "USA! USA!" This was crazier than Batman.

All of this was reported brilliantly by the Boston Globe and syndicated across the world, with the Age even running minute-by-minute micro updates for news junkies. It is because of this level of reporting and research and the creation of characters with back story - both villains and victims - that these events are so addictive for the media and audiences alike. Compare the coverage to the Texas explosion where there was more death and damage but no clear good and bad - it quickly fell from the headlines. Acts of terror in other countries would surely have the same rich narratives waiting to be pried out, but there aren't enough English speaking journalists on the ground willing to do it, often for fear of putting themselves in life and death danger. There was no such concern in Boston, and that meant we were presented with a dense and exhilarating narrative.


This was no movie though - the damage didn't disappear when we stopped watching. Plus Ben Affleck wasn't in it - and he is in ALL movies about Boston. Tragedies occur every week around the world, and we should care. But most of us have proven we don't - by the stories we read and share online and the issues we discuss with our friends. The Boston Marathon Bombings were a true tragedy too, so if you followed it and felt sadness, don't feel guilty. At least you're still feeling something. All countries affected by terrorism will be able to learn from these events as the investigation continues, and it was one wild ride for everyone who followed along at home. Despite that, I'm always going to hope Kochie's Angels is on when I wake up.

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About the Author

Brendan Lawley is a Melbourne-based writer who has written for The Age, Marketing magazine, the Advertising Research Foundation, Triple J magazine, Sneaker Freaker and several other publications.

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