I kept changing my mind about what I was going to write today. I have a half written blog post I was considering going back to but there’s something that has been so much on my mind I couldn’t not mention it, though I’m still not sure where this blog post is going.
That poor little boy who drowned when his desperate family fled Syria.
I don’t know about outside of the UK but certainly if you live here in the UK you must have seen the heartbreaking photos of that dead child. They have flooded my Facebook feed. The Wolf shared one of the front covers with the picture and commented about how that could be Baby Bear (I always denied becoming a parent would change the way I see the world but it does, it really does – the stab of grief you feel at these sorts of events is so much more intense when you imagine it’s your own child).
Many people applauded the photos. They have made a difference to public opinion on the refugee crisis (I refuse to use the utterly misleading and loaded term ‘migrant crisis’). David Cameron – that empathy vacuum of a Prime Minister – has been forced to act despite clearly thinking these refugees were simply lacking in forward planning when they were born in a country that was to become terrifying and war-torn, rather than ensuring they were born to rich toffs in good old Blighty like Cameron and his chums. But, thanks to those photos the plebs are getting worked up over a ‘crisis of humanity’ so they must be appeased.
I think it’s interesting to contrast the reaction to these photos with the reaction to the photos (and videos) used online, in news broadcasts and on front pages of newspapers after the murders of Alison Parker and Adam Ward. Many people were outraged by the stills of the victims taken from the video the gunman took and were still more upset by the video (or parts of it) being shown on the news and even auto playing on Facebook.
The different reactions highlight – for me – the dichotomy of the media (and the internet). Both the photos of the drowned refugee child and the photos and videos of the shooting were shocking and upsetting. The difference, of course, was in the effect. The refugee crisis is ongoing. It’s something people can help with now. The heart-wrenching pictures of that little boy made a difference and helped people realise what’s at stake and what needs to be done. There was a good reason to shock people. The coverage of the shootings, on the other hand, shocked without purpose. People are already well aware of the issue of gun control in the US. Showing these images made no difference but simply needlessly upset many people. On top of that, splashing pictures of the victims around looking terrified and knowing they were about to die seemed incredibly disrespectful to the families of said victims and the less said about the video the better.
The media and – more and more relevantly – the internet can be a powerfully good force. It can also be massively destructive. The thought of having to navigate that terrain with the cubs as they get older is exciting and scary in equal measure. They will have access to all sorts of knowledge and experiences my parents didn’t and I didn’t even have…both good and bad.
There is a myth that autistic people don’t feel empathy. People are gradually starting to recognise the truth: people with ASD often feel empathy far more keenly than their neurotypical counterparts. In a previous blog post I already mentioned Tyger’s response to Elsa and Anna’s parents drowning in Frozen. He clearly put himself entirely into the position of Anna and Elsa and felt keenly their loss. Recently Tyger was watching some videos on YouTube (YouTube is a friend to many an ASD parent). I went to the toilet and when I got back Tyger had tears rolling down his cheeks.
I panicked. What was he watching? I hadn’t been supervising his viewing content and he obviously had something totally inappropriate playing! How much would this scar him? What was it??
It was a video of someone playing a Dora the Explorer game where the player has to administer some basic medical care to a mildly sick and injured Dora. I asked Tyger what the matter was and he started to recount how he had hurt his leg (he hadn’t done anything to his leg but Dora needed a plaster – band aid for any Americans reading – on her leg). He empathised with a fictional character having a minor injury so much it made him cry.
So, the photos of that boy left me thinking, ‘that could be one of the cubs.’ But it also left me thinking, ‘soon the cubs will start to see and understand photos like that.’ How much should be kept from them? How will they cope with news stories and with photos and content they’ll come across on the internet? I don’t want to shelter them from reality; it’s something they’ll have to deal with regardless and it’s better they are in some way prepared. And, as the refugee crisis has shown, it’s important for people to face the brutality and tragedy of the world in order to understand and offer help. But I don’t want to overwhelm them either and there will also always be needlessly upsetting things out there like the way the Bryce Williams news story was covered.
It’s not an immediate concern but one day I’ll have to face it.
On a lighter note, I was right with my last blog post I’m Not Crying…No, Really! in that I didn’t cry on Tyger’s first day of preschool. For anyone who didn’t read the Facebook update, Tyger – on the other hand – did cry. However, he didn’t cry when I left him there but when I came to pick him up! He’s also desperate to go back.