How we talk about tragedy

Updated: 12 September, 2020 07:14 IST | Lindsay Pereira | Mumbai

Looking at the times we are living in, we seem to have lost the sensitivity that someone's personal loss ought to evoke in all of us

We now accept what happens in the aftermath of a celebrity's death because we have been trained to become immune. Representation Pic/Getty Images
We now accept what happens in the aftermath of a celebrity's death because we have been trained to become immune. Representation Pic/Getty Images

picCelebrities come with rules of their own. We have seen this time and again ever since titillation became our drug of choice. They are placed on pedestals, which means they are to be afforded no privacy. Their existenceis for our benefit alone. When a celebrity passes away, what was once treated with respect has turned into a free-for-all, with no linen deemed too dirty to air. This is human nature, of course, and to deny that this sort of voyeurism excites millions of us is to be hypocritical. I wonder when we will draw the line though, and start treating victims of tragedy as people rather than talking points.

Consider the times we live in. Television channels and newspapers have spent the past couple of weeks obsessing over a movie star who died a few months ago. They have been putting forth all kinds of inane hypotheses, questioning the nature of his demise, the possible reasons for it, and the role played by everyone he was close to in his final months.

They have reduced his family and friends to spectators, forcing them to forget about their grief and deal with conspiracy theories instead. That this has all been accepted as normal behaviour says a lot about who we have become, and what we now accept as reportage.

It isn't just us. Not too long ago, an English news broadcaster thought it would be great to interview migrants fleeing their country and trying to enter Britain by sea. They were hungry and desperate, making a journey that had already cost the lives of thousands like them making their own attempts over the past decade. The reporter didn't think it inappropriate to lean out from the safety of her own boatand ask them questions about how they were doing. There was predictable outrage in the UK, but watching that clip made me think almost instantly about so-called reporters who turn up at every tragedy, large microphones in hand, ready to thrust them into the faces of people weeping.

We used to be sensitive about personal losses. We had newspapers that would treat someone's death with the dignity it deserved, restricting comment to the legacy left behind if they happened to be public figures. To dismiss that as the relic of an innocent past where television channels simply didn't exist is to miss the point.

We now accept what happens in the aftermath of a celebrity's death because we have been trained to become immune. We have been encouraged to see famous people as symbols, rather than sons, daughters, husbands, wives, or parents. We don't think it strange that they or their loved ones are asked to share their grief with us, or that the person they have lost is given no privacy either, because nothing is out of bounds for any of us anymore.

A few years ago, another celebrity's sudden passing prompted some television reporters to enact her final moments, for reasons that still make no sense to me after all this time. We accepted that too, joking about it on Twitter, and allowing those channels to continue without censure.

What we did in the bargain was become complicit, making them think that their behaviour was okay, and encouraging them to continue by simply tuning in.

It doesn't take a scientist to recognise that we are more heartless than we have ever been in our country's bloody history. We have spent the past few years revelling in the misfortune of people poorer than us, applauding acts of hate that would have shocked us a mere generation ago. We no longer turn away at acts of blatant misogyny, intolerance, or prejudice. We no longer ask questions because it is easier to share misinformation on WhatsApp instead.

What bothered me most about the unending televised coverage of the actor's last days was everything else that was going on. We are in the middle of a pandemic. Thousands of fellow Indians have died because our government did nothing to save them. Millions of us have lost jobs, shelter, and hope. We don't know what the coming year will bring us. All of these issues warranted debate, hard questions, and responses from people elected by us to manage our country.

Instead, all we got in exchange was radio silence from some politicians, propaganda from others, public exhibitions of bigotry, and news channels that wanted us to focus on why an actor died. Chew on that when you turn on your television tonight.

When he isn't ranting about all things Mumbai, Lindsay Pereira can be almost sweet. He tweets @lindsaypereira
Send your feedback to

The views expressed in this column are the individual's and don't represent those of the paper

Keep scrolling to read more news

Catch up on all the latest Mumbai news, crime news, current affairs, and a complete guide from food to things to do and events across Mumbai. Also download the new mid-day Android and iOS apps to get latest updates.

Mid-Day is now on Telegram. Click here to join our channel (@middayinfomedialtd) and stay updated with the latest news

First Published: 12 September, 2020 07:14 IST

Sign up for all the latest news, top galleries and trending videos from

loading image
This website uses cookie or similar technologies, to enhance your browsing experience and provide personalised recommendations. By continuing to use our website, you agree to our Privacy Policy and Cookie Policy. OK