A Damaging Spectacle

Kyoto

I’ve had to stop watching the television reports on the disasters in Japan.

Part of it is that I have begun to feel a bit like a voyeur, part of it is that in the repeated viewing of the same clips on what feels like a continuous loop, I am beginning to anticipate what will happen next; in a few seconds that boat will crash into the bridge, those containers will bob about like rubber toys in a bath, that truck will hit the roof of that house.

‘Stop asking him about how he feels!’ I’ve actually shouted it at the TV, at a reporter forcing his microphone into the face of a fireman working on the clean-up, before cheering as the man, his face blank and exhausted, replied ‘We are working until all the work is done.’

Why, in the face of such an overwhelming loss, can we not be left to observe the man’s dogged determination to carry on working no matter what, and imagine for ourselves what that feels like?  What words could the fireman have said that could convey the magnitude of his sorrow?

I’m a big believer in the power of words, but only to the extent that they can paint a picture of the world.  Sometimes a picture is strong enough to need no further words of explanation.

I’ve visited Japan twice, once for work and once on vacation, so have nothing more than a short, undoubtedly superficial, experience of the country, and know nothing of the area that was affected by the earthquake and tsunami.  I was struck by the orderliness of the society; coming from a country where we have lost our historically vaunted love of queueing, everyone there appeared to be prepared to wait their turn.

In spite of the destruction around them, people in the affected areas appear to be maintaining this protocol; there have been clips of people in orderly lines waiting for food, water and fuel.  I cannot imagine us in this country behaving with such good manners in a similar situation.

I’ve been thinking about how I would react if my home town were destroyed around me.  What would my story be?  Would I manage forbearance and dignity?  But I see people like that fireman, or a woman searching for her mother, and I imagine their horror, and I have not wanted to write anything trite about the disasters.

It seems I may be in a minority.  I have just read this article in The Guardian which lists some of the more absurd ‘celebrity’ reactions to the tragedy on Twitter.  140 characters of emoting, sandwiched in between reports of shopping or make up.

Faced with the dignity and stoic ‘carry on working until the work is done’ approach of the people actually suffering, voyeurs are issuing sound bites to show their ‘caring’ side.

Oh, for a moment of silence.

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