Thursday, June 24, 2010

My own hypocrisy

I've been following the BP oil spill in the Gulf about as much as I can bear doing so. However, the news that sea turtles are being burned alive kills me, and honestly, I can't read about it. I did link to it in the previous sentence, because if you can stomach reading about it, go right ahead.

I'm feeling like a bit of a hypocrite right now. An argument I employed in both my thesis and my media ethics paper was that people shouldn't be shielded from news simply because it upsets them. News outlets should publish information without fear of reprisal from government or private authorities over the content being "inappropriate" simply because it's unsettling. I dealt with controversial atrocity and war photography and argued that people should be exposed to the reality of events (in a non-exploitative or sensationalist way), even if the reality is objectionable. The arugment is a bit more complicated than I care to explain here, but that's the most basic premise.

And in this case, I just can't follow my own set of ethics.

In my defense, I don't completely ignore news about the oil spill. Overall, its incredibly unfortunate and, ultimately, it's depressing. I try not to linger too much on it (which means I definitely don't subject myself to the 24-hour cable news cycle). My avoidance of constant bombardment with it doesn't mean I'm not informed about it.

But I can't read about the animals; it just kills me. I can't bring myself to look at the photos of fish, turtles and even a whale washed up dead because of something humanity did. Part of my recent foray into vegetarianism is due to reading a novel with lots of animal violence, which disturbed me in a visceral way, down to my core. I put my dog in place of these fictional creatures and cried my eyes out. After watching "Food, Inc." and being highly disturbed by the inhumane process of killing employed by the commercial meat industry, I decided I couldn't be complicit in that behavior. This violence against animals bothered me to the extent that I was willing (somewhat) to give up my beloved cheesesteaks.

I guess everyone has limits of what they'll expose themselves to. During my thesis research, I explicated photos of dead soldiers and civilians over the span of three major wars (Vietnam, OEF and OIF) and there were some days that I cried and some days that I felt nothing. I believed that people needed to know the realities of war, horrific as these images were.

But I can't bring myself to read about sea turtles being burned alive. And I can't stop driving my car. I think of myself as a principled and ethical person, and can't abide by this hypocrisy. Am I too hard on myself? I don't know. I wish there were simple answers for things... like how to make the oil spill stop, how to clean it up and how to evaluate myself without beating myself up.

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