Beyond Insignificant: The Blatantly Insignificant Others Rant

It just doesn't get much more blatant than this! Usually you have to compare your Insignificant Others to your Significant Beloveds in general comparative terms, it's a rare chance indeed to be able to compare their relative value in real time. In fact, I do believe this is what scientists would call absolute proof of a hypothesis. But this is exciting for more reasons than that. I mean, how often do you get a chance to see the lives of a group of people treated with such complete and utter disdain, contempt and indifference right before your very eyes as you sit and watch the news?

What the hell am I going on about now, you ask? Well, you may remember my rant about the Insignificant Others a few months back. You know, the one about how we in the Western world seem to drastically undervalue certain people (i.e. all those outside the Western world) and how we make little effort to conceal this fact. Well, the media here in Canada just proved my point beyond any sort of reasonable doubt.

I'm talking about last week's twin mining tragedies, one in America, one in China. I'm talking about the endless coverage, day after day, of the 6 trapped miners and 3 killed rescuers in Utah. And I'm talking about the seconds - literally seconds - of coverage given to the 180 trapped-and-presumed-dead miners over in China.

You do the math: While both places had massive rescue operations underway, one place had 180 men possibly dead, the other place had 9, in total. So, which is the bigger story? You got it, the 9 Americans of course. Why? Well, because, y'know, they're just way more, like, human and stuff. You know, more like us.

In Utah you had weeping family members, emotional on-site reporters, solemn yet hopeful speeches by officials, 6 beloved fathers, husbands and sons missing, and then the tragic story of 3 killed heroes, all reported on with a very clear sense of sadness and loss. While over in China you just had a feed from Chinese TV and a whole bunch of dead or dying Chinese guys. It's obvious where the true story and true tragedy lies here. And our fearless, truth-seeking media conscientiously went out and found it... all the way down in Utah. Way to go guys!

It was all rather repulsive, if you ask me. Usually, for those wishing to ignore this whole reality, the similar tragedies happen months, if not years, apart, so it's easy to rationalize and explain away. However, this time, with both events unfolding at the same time, there was really no way to ignore the obvious discrepancy in the perceived value of these different people's lives.

One thing's for sure, if Lindsay Lohan or Paris Hilton were in trouble over there, say drinking too much and throwing their Prada bags at someone, the Canadian media would find a way to get a live reporter on the scene within minutes. And, hey, why not? Why waste resources on some 180 or so most-likely-dead Chinese people when there are so many much more important things going on? Like Britney. Or the Beckhams.

While watching the news I kept thinking that, just in case anyone missed the point, they should have written right across the bottom of the screen "These people are IMPORTANT! This is a real tragedy" for the Utah story and then "These people are insignificant and irrelevant. Don't worry about them too much" for the China story. But, of course, the China story was over far too quickly for such a long sentence to ever be fully displayed on screen.

In case you were away camping or something and missed it, we got full coverage of press conferences featuring any and all local and federal officials, carried live on both national 24-hour news networks here in Canada; we got analysis from "experts"; we got the governor of Utah over and over again; and, then, when it was all too much and we headed for our computers, we got the exact same treatment on most, if not all, of the media websites, with constant headlines about Utah and few, if any, about China. "It's the rich dudes stupid!" was the clear and unwavering message.

"Where is this China anyway? Isn't it close to Guam or something? No, I know, it's over there near Australia, where we got all that amazing coverage last year of those 2 trapped miners. Now that was a tragedy! I mean, they both were eventually rescued, but man were they ever trapped! And that one poor guy looked just like my cousin Bif".

Likewise, that bridge collapse in Minnesota earlier this month, where 13 people lost their lives, received massive media coverage here in Canada for days on end, while a similar bridge collapse in China 2 weeks later, with at least 36 dead, garnered a passing mention on the news. Then a few days after that there was that huge quake in Peru, with over 500 dead. It did receive quite a bit of coverage, but, again, it received a fraction of the media attention given to that Minnesota bridge collapse. Who's more important, hundreds of Peruvians or 13 Americans? It really is a no-brainer, isn't it? I guess I should stop being so naive.

And just to make myself absolutely clear, I'm talking about the Canadian, not the American, media here. Not that the American media is any better - in fact, it's even more inward-looking and self-obsessed - but in the cases I'm talking about here the American media would, of course, be expected to pay attention to American tragedies, like those in Utah or Minnesota. But why on earth does the Canadian media have to focus on relatively minor disasters in America while at the same time almost completely ignoring much bigger tragedies in places like China?

You'd think the journalists and reporters working at these media giants would feel at least somewhat embarrassed about working for organizations that show such open disdain for non-Western human life, but, to be fair, they probably get pretty good health and dental benefits, so they can't quit, can they?

Perhaps I should do as they've presumably done and stop fighting it and just accept the reality that real tragedy only occurs when the people dying look, act, dress and shop just like us, just like me, and preferably speak like us too. British, American, Australian and New Zealand dead are just so much more convincingly tragic than those other people "over there". I mean, we all agree that a crushed Lexus is a lot more interesting than a crushed rickshaw or a beat-up old Toyota... or a houseful of poor people.

But, either way, can you imagine the media frenzy if, say, Lindsay, Paris, Britney and Posh Spice were all trapped together in a Louis Vuitton store somewhere in Thailand with nothing to eat but their miniature dogs. Now that'd be a "Third World Story" worth covering!!

Mike Cowie (Oredakedo)
Tuesday, August 21st, 2007