Thursday, March 17, 2011

The Sound of Silence

"a roaring river of rubble; an entire town lies in ruins..."
"a cascade of cars, bobbing like rubber ducks in an endless bathtub..."

These were just a couple of the statements used by solemn-voiced television reporters last Friday as the world's eyes turned to Japan. I am all for a turn of phrase, but when juxtaposed against images of a terrible tragedy, the words just seemed absurd and contrived. It was clear what was happening, we get it, was there really a need to put on this kind of literary-style commentary as well, just in case we missed something?

As my uncle and I flicked through the channels, the lines between reality and fantasy appeared to blur. The visuals had taken on the look of a mid-budget Hollywood production. Ground shots, aerial shots, shots from the inside of a building, from under a desk. And the commentary seemed to get more and more ridiculous. "You've seen this view" they seemed to say, "but have you seen this one? How about this one?", and on it went.

Finally, we stopped at one particular channel. And we looked at each other in amazement. There was no commentary. In fact, there was no sound at all. All they had was footage, with a ticker at the bottom of the screen summarising the unfolding events. What else was there to say?

I remember a friend once telling me about an orthodox Jewish tradition where the only response to tragedy or intense grief is - silence. Similarly, the Bible tells the story of Job's friends coming to visit him in the midst of his suffering. When they realised the full extent of their friend's plight, they were so saddened that they sat with him for three days- and said absolutely nothing. They knew that there are some voids that words- however well-intentioned- can never hope to fill.

In the 24/7 world of 'info-tainment', however, there is simply no time for silence. One person's world unexpectedly shattering is another's breaking news.

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