As I watched the recent events unfolding in Grenfell Tower, I was deeply saddened for many different reasons. As the news channels scrambled to pour every morsel of angst into the viewers homes, my morbid fascination drew on the events unfolding on the screen. I reasoned that it was okay to watch because I was detached from the situation and I had a moral responsibility to gather as much information as possible; to make sense of what had happened.
I was totally engrossed as shots of the burning building were beamed into my bedroom. I watched avidly as survivors recounted their stories, fresh from the scene; sat in their pyjamas amidst the media scrum. I listened intently as they replayed the scene of the burning building, their testimonies peppered with fear, anger and sadness. I was drawn to the building as blue lights flashed amidst the fire, echoing the urgency of the situation. The emergency services were working flat out to bring people to safety and still I was glued.
The excited journalists were wringing every last emotion from the traumatized residents and still I was ‘spectating.’ The sensationalism of the events had me totally gripped, I felt a pull as though I was in the situation with the residents. The images and descriptions played with my emotions from deep sadness to joy as people escaped the situation. Then something happened, I heard screams, screams of panic, terror, fear. I saw movement in the windows of burning flats and I realised that at that very moment people were actually fighting for their lives whilst I was being spoon fed their misery-moment by moment. The screams I heard were female, this was someone’s daughter, mother, sister, aunt, friend and I was voyeuristically watching her trauma.
I switched off the television and sat in the darkness feeling embarrassed and ashamed that I had taken part in the exploitation of the vulnerable. I had become so wrapped up in the culture of reality television that I had forgotten about dignity, respect and common decency. I realised that I had crossed a line; it wasn’t Christian, it wasn’t loving and compassionate; it was feeding self. I prayed for the victims, their families and the community; that is what I should have done from the beginning.
I realise now that people’s misery is not a form of entertainment; yes we need to be aware of our surroundings and what is happening in the world but as Christians we are instructed to ‘…..love your neighbour as yourself.’ (Luke 10:27). I undervalued my neighbour as I watched their pain unfolding, to feed the carnal desire of sensationalism within me. I have learned to question whether my motives are Christian or are they really pandering to self?