Pain of the Viewer

As humans, it is in our nature to feel a wide range of emotions. We tend to seek out the bad in things and we react and engage better with materials depicting suffering.

Hence why suffering is inherent in our media today. Dating back to examples of picture of burnt bodies, men falling to their death, children dying and other terrible occurrences. Why do these shocking images consistently appear in our media?

Maybe we like seeing suffering in others because it gives us a sense of superiority over them? It might make us feel better about our lives to see someone suffering more in theirs. That’s why we get so emotionally moved when we see people who are of the same or higher stature as ourselves suffer, because if they suffer it means we most likely will too.

Additionally, suffering has been inherently depicted in religion. Christianity, as an example, portrays images of saints suffering for a cause greater than their lives. It is meant to make us appreciate what we have now and the suffering serves as a reminder. Why are the graphic and horrific torturous images displayed so openly for everyone to see? The satisfaction that we get out of seeing these images outweighs the violent and destructive content they contain.

Furthermore, there is an abundance of pain throughout all art forms in society, not just religion, whether it be paintings, films, music or dance. Exhibiting human suffering in the media is a way by which we can communicate effectively to the extensive public. We are all in the struggle of life together as we all collectively try to understand why we are here. For example, the award-winning film “12 years a slave” (2013) features a lynching scene where we watch the protagonist hang from a tree for just over a minute as he struggles to stay alive. We, as the audience, are horrified and upset by this content but we can’t look away because we are compelled by our inner instincts to witness this suffering.

However, “12 years a slave” is not the only film depicting human suffering. We are seeing a trend of horrific, traumatising and terrorising historical events turning into films for our entertainment. Another example is the upcoming movie “Patriots Day” (2016) which relives the Boston Bombings. Suffering attracts viewers because we get pleasure from the pain. These movies hit hard and attract crowds because it pulls on the viewers heart strings.

As human beings, we have the ability to feel both sympathy and empathy. On the emotional spectrum, empathy is more difficult for an individual to feel. Empathy is best felt when people talk to other people who have been through the same problem, thus they can relate to each other. It is much harder to empathise when you haven’t been through the same thing.

Sympathy on the other hand is so easily confused with, and mistaken for, pity. It isn’t nice to pity someone nor is it nice to feel pitied. When taking sympathy on someone, it is common that no actions will arise in order to resolve the problem. People are more likely to observe and ignore the thing they are sympathising for when they are being sympathetic; whereas, empathy usually drives us to action.

We tend to feel more for the viewer of the pain rather than the victim of the pain. The movie “The Blind Side” (2009) demonstrates this notion as the movie focuses more on the suffering of Sandra Bullocks character rather than “big mike”.

Moreover, people don’t really empathise for starving children in Africa. Well they do, but they aren’t as moved to action as they would be if they saw someone more relatable reacting to what was going on.

This leads on to the idea of celebrity charity causes. The most recent campaign of which is the Ed Sheeran “Red Nose day” comic relief video 2017. In this clip, Ed Sheeran goes to Liberia where he talks to an African child who is living a tough life. This video is nearly identical to the Jack Black comic relief video 2015. Both Ed and Jack sit with a child and talk about what the child wants, which in both videos the answer is education. In both videos, the child discusses how their parents have both passed or left them. In Ed’s video he talks about how it is very confronting to see all these kids suffering and how he “can’t process this” and that his “natural instinct is to put them in a car and take them to the city until [he] can get them sorted”. The question is, are these videos propaganda utilising suffering to call the people to action?

Suffering is embedded in our media. The people engage with the shocking content that is presented to them and they react accordingly. Do you think this ethically? Do you think that this is a sustainable way for our society to prosper? Food for thought.


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