Compassion or voyeurism?

The promotion of photos of a drowned three year old raise issues about media and public voyeurism and questions of how much actual compassion is involved shoukld be asked.

Max Fisher at Vox asks Are we sharing that photo of the drowned Syrian child out of compassion or voyeurism?

Looking at the same photo that everyone is looking at this week, of a young Syrian refugee boy whose body had washed up on a Turkish beach, and reading about the boy’s brief and difficult life, I found myself torn between two conflicting reactions. On the one hand, I was saddened by the needless death of this young child, and outraged by the many factors that contributed to it: the Syrian war, European hostility to migration, and the world’s callous indifference to the ever-worsening refugee crisis. Those factors are important, so the photograph’s ability to call the world’s attention to them makes it a powerful journalistic tool.

But I am also uncomfortable with the way those images have been converted into just another piece of viral currency. There is a line between compassion and voyeurism. And as that photo was shared and retweeted over and over again, converted into listicles and social-friendly packages, it felt more and more like the latter.

It’s worth reading through the post. It asks some hard questions about the populist outcry over one death when thousands of deaths over years have been virtually ignored.

Fisher concludes:

If you actually want to help Syrian refugee children like the little boy in the viral photo, it’s not enough to care about this single dead child; you have to care about living refugee kids too, and in fact you also have to care about living refugee adults. If the image of the Syrian refugee boy made you feel something, that’s great, but it only matters for making an actual difference in the world if you can apply those feelings to living refugees as well — and, crucially, to yourself.

If we want Syrian children to stop dying in the Mediterranean and washing up on Turkish beaches, we have to start with examining ourselves, our sense of our own cultural identities, and why we feel it’s so important to exclude foreign refugees in order to protect those identities. That’s a really difficult thing to do.

But unless we do it, then our treatment of this photo will have been more about extracting a “big emotional experience” than about really caring.

Of those who have demanded ‘we must do something to help! I wonder how many have actually donated to any of the organisations doing what they can to help Syrian refugees?