This Kid Just Died [VIDEO]
November 23, 2014 4:10 AM   Subscribe

"Grief porn enters the Facebook era" "And, like regular pornography, the internet has transformed it. Freed from the already relaxed constraints of tabloid journalism, grief porn is no longer obligated to fake newsworthiness or importance. You don't need to die in a particularly tragic way; your death doesn't need to be the occasion for punishment or law-enactment. You just need to have produced consumable, shareable content before your untimely death. Rather than a news angle allowing a writer to smuggle grief porn into a paper, a grief-porn angle allows a content creator to smuggle a shareable unit onto Facebook." An interesting essay by Kelly Conaboy, ironically on Gawker.
posted by HuronBob (65 comments total) 20 users marked this as a favorite
 
"Shareable unit" is somehow the ugliest thing I've read in a long time.
posted by Joakim Ziegler at 4:21 AM on November 23, 2014 [16 favorites]


This is good writing:

Where Facebook and the content providers that orbit it have succeed is in gamifying and monetizing that honest reaction, frictionlessly converting the near-giddy emotional rush received from a awful story into a compulsion: "You have to read how sad this is." We dress it up with sad emojis and condolences, we talk about crying, and sometimes do cry, but it's entertainment—an episode of Parenthood, but with real people. It's something to see, extract a rush of feeling from, and forget. I mean, let's say it: We get off on it.
posted by spitbull at 4:29 AM on November 23, 2014 [2 favorites]


"It's hard to criticize people for feeling a socially positive emotion but here goes!"
posted by srboisvert at 4:35 AM on November 23, 2014 [13 favorites]


Maybe the solution is to overcome our aversion to sharing porn porn.
posted by Samuel Farrow at 5:30 AM on November 23, 2014 [9 favorites]


As with most things people post on Facebook, the solution is Keep Scrolling. Barring that, Hide. Or, you can scold them in essay format.
posted by Aya Hirano on the Astral Plane at 5:34 AM on November 23, 2014 [3 favorites]


Is grief for a stranger's loss a "socially positive" reaction if it provides the stranger no comfort?

In any case, the critique is of the exploitation of that reaction for money, and the shallowness that results when it's time for the weekly daily dose of other people's misery. And that critique is right on. Whatever is socially positive about empathy is squeezed out when it becomes aestheticized and commodified.
posted by spitbull at 5:36 AM on November 23, 2014 [16 favorites]


In the future, we will have a pornography for every emotion, some vicarious stimulation that doesn't connect us to the imagined stimulus in any way (in fact it won't be required that the stimulus refer to any real object).
posted by idiopath at 5:53 AM on November 23, 2014 [4 favorites]


Well they do balance out the grief with "This Dog Not Only Surfs But Bakes Croissants That Can Fold Space And Could Save Christmas"
posted by RobotVoodooPower at 5:54 AM on November 23, 2014 [13 favorites]


This is very interesting. But I am worried that there is a move on to change the name of porn to "porn porn".
posted by chavenet at 5:55 AM on November 23, 2014 [13 favorites]


I saw a screenshot recently of a Facebook post by a well intentioned person who, having been cheered up by his friends' posts of cute dog and baby videos, thanked them for all of the "dog porn" and "baby porn."

The post was deleted very quickly.
posted by Faint of Butt at 6:12 AM on November 23, 2014 [42 favorites]


In the future, we will have a pornography for every emotion, some vicarious stimulation that doesn't connect us to the imagined stimulus in any way (in fact it won't be required that the stimulus refer to any real object).

Isn't that just entertainment?
posted by officer_fred at 6:33 AM on November 23, 2014 [4 favorites]


Perhaps this is just about wanting hyperbolic names for our entertainment.
posted by idiopath at 6:35 AM on November 23, 2014 [4 favorites]


My Facebook wall is full of people admitting to being the Dreaded Laramie.
posted by (Arsenio) Hall and (Warren) Oates at 6:35 AM on November 23, 2014 [12 favorites]


I think the jolt of emotional satisfaction must be what also underlies the tendency of people to post other "look at this horrible thing!" stories. I have friends who have causes and issues they care about, who pepper my Facebook feed with terrible stories you can't do anything about: horribly abused dogs and children, police brutality, terrible teacher stories, awful things happening to someone half a world away. It's not news in the sense that it's educational about a previously unknown issues or can lead to productive action. It really doesn't go any farther or deeper than, "This is terrible!" I've never quite been able to articulate why people seem to like to share that kind of thing, but this article does a good job, I think, of coming up with an explanation that makes sense to me.
posted by not that girl at 6:36 AM on November 23, 2014 [4 favorites]


It's also the bane of internet activism in general though -- this idea that you can live a full life online, this reduction of empathy and horror to spectacle, this weird notion that "caring" about something is the same as "doing" something about it, as long as you are public about your "caring" affect, this weird separation of sociability from intimacy, or of community from empathy. Indeed, it's the simulacrum of "community" -- the thing really being commodified and monetized by "social networking" -- that I think deserves a more searching critique. Metafilter (and a few other places online) excepted, there is a hollowness to the "social" life of our time lived out in ad-supported special snowflake flurries of giving a shit.
posted by spitbull at 6:42 AM on November 23, 2014 [36 favorites]


*buys webcam*

*turns around, pulls pants down and flips middle fingers in front of bare ass*

*puts photo in folder labeled "in the event of my death" and adds caption - "grieve over this, motherfuckers"*
posted by pyramid termite at 6:48 AM on November 23, 2014 [5 favorites]


I find myself agreeing with pretty much everything in this article. I also find myself fighting a powerful urge to share this on my Facebook wall, an urge that seems centered on shooting down the maudlin displays of others -- maybe I'm more susceptible to Emotional Superiority Porn than Grief Porn.
posted by HeroZero at 6:50 AM on November 23, 2014 [5 favorites]


Even having read the article, I can't imagine how someone would see "A Father Sings To His Dying Newborn Son After His Wife Dies Following Childbirth" and think "I wanna click that!"
posted by Bugbread at 6:55 AM on November 23, 2014 [24 favorites]


Isn't that just entertainment?

Some day people will figure out how to make other people feel things by telling them stories. Sometimes these stories will not even be true. When we start getting good at this technology of falsefeelstories, god only knows what might happen.
posted by atoxyl at 7:00 AM on November 23, 2014 [18 favorites]


This piece slides two targets together:

(1) people having emotions about people they haven't met
(2) people posting about that to Facebook

Much of the author's sharpest criticism of (2) seems to be based on an assumption of bad faith involved in (1). Despite the author saying they're 'honest' emotions, that caveat is short-lived.

For example, the admittedly great phrase "crocodile shares" smuggles in the implication that one's sympathy for a stranger is somehow phony. And the witty cartoon of a tear falling into a heroin spoon doesn't have anything to do with sharing stuff to social media; it just condemns the emotion in and of itself.

There's a very long tradition of critics who hold that people's feelings about the plight of strangers (or fictional characters) could only be unearned emotional masturbation. This article, too, indulges in all the well-worn tropes about self-indulgence. But I've never seen why that cynical diagnosis of sympathy is so appealing, at least as a categorical view. One might be tempted to diagnose the stern anti-sentimentalists with the desire to get off on their own emotional hardness.

That isn't to say that there's nothing icky about (2); I just think the social media rubbernecking of tragedy can be found icky without subscribing to the idea that sympathy itself is suspect.
posted by Beardman at 7:34 AM on November 23, 2014 [13 favorites]


For example, the admittedly great phrase "crocodile shares" smuggles in the implication that one's sympathy for a stranger is somehow phony

Not that it's phony, but that it's performative. It's curious to me that people are reading this so much as an overt criticism of the idea of grief porn - there are definitely some worrying aspects to grief porn, but this struck much more as a "Jesus, digital life is strange" article. The mechanism of wanting to share a stranger's grief with your friends is, for better or worse, apparently a human drive that the internet facilitates, and worthy of examination.

Though I'm curious as to why the occasion of a man singing to his dying infant was filmed and how it ended up online.
posted by Peevish at 7:47 AM on November 23, 2014 [3 favorites]


Regardless of the intentions of the people sharing it, it's grotesque that there's an ecosystem of people making money off a video of a dying baby that includes Facebook, Buzzfeed and Buzzfeed's advertising network.
posted by codacorolla at 7:53 AM on November 23, 2014 [4 favorites]


I was born in '87 which makes me a Millennial, though prolonged exposure to honest-to-goodness civil society resulted in only a tenuous relationship with the e-zeitgeist. When I try really hard, I can sometimes raise enough empathy to grok why this stuff gets passed around.

Let's try this thought experiment: you're a millennial. You had an upbringing that insulated you from the worst of the world's misery, got a degree in communications, and moved to a city three hours away from your family. You have some friends at work, maybe a couple college buddies in town, but you don't know your neighbors and you find much better camaraderie in your online communities because they share more of your interests and ideology.

There's some degree of social isolation here. You might hear about your neighbor who died, but you didn't really know her. Your grandmother passed last year in a nursing home three states away, but you couldn't get off of work to make it to the funeral. Of course your gaming buddies or facebook friends suffer their own slings and arrows, but your experience of them comes mostly through their posts to social media. The geographic distance attenuates your emotional connection-- expressing your condolences on Facebook Messenger is a much more limited interaction than stopping by with a covered dish and being with someone in mourning. The online experience is no less authentic, but it is certainly muted in comparison. So there you are, the child of fortune who, not unlike the Buddha prior to enlightenment, has yet to truly witness poverty, sickness, or death in person. All you have to go on are stories, second-hand accounts, text. Even when it's your online friend, even when they sent you a secret quonsar, you are alienated from their suffering nonetheless.

I think that this feeling of alienation is the exact thing that allows us to experience grief porn as something genuine, something authentic. When our understanding of mourning comes to us electronically, that blakbird video seems, in some ways, more real than our facebook friends' accounts of their own tragedies. There's no covered dish, no physical presence; everyone reacts, but everyone is also compartmentalized.

We are all of us bawling alone, and perhaps our recognition of that fact drives us to seek out communal mourning through grief porn.
posted by The White Hat at 7:55 AM on November 23, 2014 [20 favorites]


A sound theory, White Hat, but how would you then explain the propensity for certain older internet users to indulge in this?

(A day when my aunt and/or uncle don't post an Upworthy/Buzzfeed glurge thing on their facebook thread is becoming a rare thing.)
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 8:06 AM on November 23, 2014 [1 favorite]


In the future, we will have a pornography for every emotion, some vicarious stimulation that doesn't connect us to the imagined stimulus in any way

From "Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?":
"So I left the TV sound off and I sat down at my [Penfield] mood organ and I experimented. And I finally found a setting for despair. So I put it on my schedule for twice a month; I think that's a reasonable amount of time to feel hopeless about everything, about staying here on Earth after everybody who's smart has emigrated, don't you think?"
posted by FJT at 8:13 AM on November 23, 2014 [20 favorites]


Man I can't even venture a guess. I am starting to bald and develop nagging pains in my knees and shoulders though so perhaps I will soon find out.
posted by The White Hat at 8:14 AM on November 23, 2014 [3 favorites]


I recently found out about the death of a acquaintance not because of a post about his death but because his friends started sharing a gofundme page for his funeral. Maybe that's not terribly unusual but his inheritance was in the millions and his family certainly is not in need at all. It wasn't even a family member who started the page but a friend of his from highschool (he was only 18 when he died.)

It just seemed a really weird way to find out about a death. "Hey, I died, send money."
posted by M Edward at 8:16 AM on November 23, 2014 [2 favorites]


the admittedly great phrase "crocodile shares" smuggles in the implication that one's sympathy for a stranger is somehow phony

Not that it's phony, but that it's performative.


Actually, that makes my point: a standard definition of crocodile tears is that they're a false emotion you display for some purpose. Right there in the phrase is the conflation of performativity or display with phony or insincere feeling.

this struck much more as a "Jesus, digital life is strange" article

Yeah, I see that. It is a conflicted article, not as much of a hit piece on internet hypocrites as some things I've seen. I was just tugging on one of several threads that run through it. (It opens with a tone of incredulity that people would mourn for someone they haven't met--imagine!)
posted by Beardman at 8:17 AM on November 23, 2014


I've recently begun specifically eschewing stories like the video featured in the article. I'm actively looking for a news source that doesn't report on these personal tragedies that have no bearing on my life other than as clickbait to make me sad.

I can't do anything about it, it doesn't affect me personally (other than to throw me into a depression for the morning), and there is no reason for me to know the specifics other than morbid curiosity. Unless the news has some bearing on me or my family, I generally don't want to hear it anymore. I know that bad things happen to good or innocent people. Unless they met an untimely end that is avoidable and I must know details to keep my family safe (product recall, etc), I don't need to know about the most heartbreaking thing that I've ever heard today.

Then there's the whole circle-jerk thing that happens around these stories from people co-opting tragedies. Disgusting. It's like smelling or tasting something bad; why do we feel compelled to make others suffer needlessly, too, and have then taste, smell or read things that does nothing but harm?

I'm not saying that I never want to hear bad things again - I know that's impossible and dangerous - but for empathetic people, much of today's news is simply not necessary other than "entertainment" that I can do without.
posted by dozo at 8:23 AM on November 23, 2014 [4 favorites]


Denial is a hell of a drug.
posted by fullerine at 8:39 AM on November 23, 2014


I think there are a few things that motivate this trend.

1. People want to feel feelings, and they would rather feel them over real things versus things that are contrived. There is a market for things that make you feel emotions (say, a whole range of movie genres ). Adding reality to it brings it one step closer to immediacy.

2. Connected to the above, people really like to experience negative emotions in such a way that it's still one step removed from their reality. We like to touch sadness without being immersed in the turmoil of actually losing a loved one. We want sadness to move us towards feeling more alive versus feeling like we want to crawl up into the fetal position and never get out of bed.

3. It's also a natural progression of something that has already existed for a long time in person or around water coolers or in the hall by the lockers. "Did you hear what happend to so and so? It is such a shame." There's always been genuine compassion for hardship, but always false sentiment as well as a form of entertainment.

It's sort of connected to the feeling we get from schadenfreude, but not quite it. We don't get pleasure from other's harm, but we get pleasure from knowing that it's not us and we are only experiencing the sorrow peripherally and in a managed way. I do wonder if it's about feeling that we are in control of our lives. We get to manage our emotions through what we choose to take in through media, rather than having bad things thrust upon us.

This doesn't mean that genuine compassion can't exist on the internet. But it's the watercooler effect of controlled sentiment as entertainment that is addicting and has the opportunity to get overly exaggerated on the internet.

I think a predictable thing that will happen soon is we'll see a lot of made up scenarios that are contrived simply to elicit responses. That kind of thing has always thrived as well, but the internet plus monetization of clicks and just a general desire for recognition will encourage a lot more of it.
posted by SpacemanStix at 8:49 AM on November 23, 2014 [8 favorites]


I grew up Southern (or at least east Texan: close enough) so performative emotion is something I was trained to do and expect from an early age. But the thought of that Blackbird video just creeped me out. I understood the performative aspects of watching and responding to it as an intellectual matter, but I couldn't go there, and the clickbait aspect was part of what made it so creepy to me.

Sometime in the last year or two, my hindbrain has started to treat clickbait like advertising. My impulse is to just block clickbait sites (a vast success for me on Facebook) and ignore them when people direct my attention to them. I think it's improved my mental well-being in a way analogous to getting rid of ads, too: when I don't see ads, I don't want to buy stuff I don't need. And when I don't read clickbait, particularly emotionally manipulative clickbait, I maintain my emotional equilibrium and am generally a more content human being.
posted by immlass at 9:00 AM on November 23, 2014 [4 favorites]


Old people like it because it's so novel to them that there is a much larger trove of real life stories that it validates a lot of previous experiences, judgements, whatever with real world people (even if the truth is tenuous the people are "real " which is often good enough) where in the past a lot of sappy / shaming / exploiting human fears and moralizing was accomplished through entirely fictitious parables. Urban legends. The ones that make people feel superior stay around. There's enough saturation of narrative now that we can cherry pick from all manner of "real" experiences to sell shit or feel better about what we believe.
posted by aydeejones at 9:07 AM on November 23, 2014


"Denial is a hell of a drug."

Not sure if you're referring to me, but if you are, it has nothing to do with denial. This has to do with the fact that I don't need to know that 5 members of a family were killed when their 16 year old fell asleep at the wheel on their dream trip to Disney two states away, but that the 16 year old was left alive to think about it for the rest of their life.

Do I know that driving while tired is dangerous? Yes.

Do I know that senseless tragedies happen all the time for no reason? Yes.

What should I have taken from this story other than sadness that I didn't already know? What impact does knowing that this happened have on me other than to make me think about how tragedy happens every day and could strike me or any of my loved ones at any moment, as I sip my coffee or walk my dog or spend time with my family?

I could see your point if I said I just don't want to hear the news anymore, period. But not wanting to have tragedies needlessly weigh on my soul is not denial, it's moderation.

Sometime in the last year or two, my hindbrain has started to treat clickbait like advertising. My impulse is to just block clickbait sites (a vast success for me on Facebook) and ignore them when people direct my attention to them. I think it's improved my mental well-being in a way analogous to getting rid of ads, too: when I don't see ads, I don't want to buy stuff I don't need. And when I don't read clickbait, particularly emotionally manipulative clickbait, I maintain my emotional equilibrium and am generally a more content human being.

This.
posted by dozo at 9:08 AM on November 23, 2014 [2 favorites]


Strange days indeed
posted by aydeejones at 9:08 AM on November 23, 2014


Non "old people" like it even as they don't know what the "old people" were missing because we all "get off on" stories, and having some strong belief that stories that stimulate us for better or worse are "true" subverts the story of stories and turns it into story crack. The real story, the free base version and now it just falls into your feed, yum. My feed. Ing. Trough. Metafilter is the best trough doe
posted by aydeejones at 9:14 AM on November 23, 2014


The Stereotypical performative person often does have great emotional intensity and depth, but they misinterpret the rush of emotion they get from reading a sad story as a virtuous experience that they must pay forward to someone else. They are broadcasting "I am emotionally deep and empathetic" and there's a chance they mean this earnestly, even if they are also pursuing a pat on the back for being so "in tune with the world and people." That's just one subset, but I think you'd need to be borderline psychopath to insist on sharing emotional stories without yourself feeling genuinely moved by the story. Even if it's Louis CK thinking about how nice a guy he is for thinking about giving his first class seat to a soldier even though he's never done it. Emotions are weird and cargo culty sometimes
posted by aydeejones at 9:28 AM on November 23, 2014 [6 favorites]


Except in the workplace. Whoops forgot that. Stories are used to boost morale or motivate or make employees feel lucky for whatever they get. So yeah never mind the absolute statement about psychopath tendencies because running enormous companies is essentially antisocial at its core much of the time and corporations can't have mental illness because they aren't people. See.
posted by aydeejones at 9:32 AM on November 23, 2014


dozo, I hate clickbait passionately and recognize it like sleazy SEO copy at the first glance now. But I often find myself writing some rambling comment anywhere at 3 am that doesn't trigger my "That's clickbait" response, so long as the topic interests me and someone is wrong on the Internet. I succumb to comment bait at the expense of doing cool productive things in the wee hours. So this is my last comment ever. Or is it? Check my profile and add me 2urTwitterz2 find out!
posted by aydeejones at 9:38 AM on November 23, 2014


None of my FB friends who do this surprise me in the least when they do, nor do the folks who post pics of their latest meal, or their dog/kitty/horse stuff, political bs, orblurry concert vids, pics of a newborn or a car. To them, I suppose i am the guy who posts 'where to best see the eclipse' ... astroporn? Everything exists these days, and the wide variety of friends that we have will be captured, moved or inspired at one time or another by something we can't understand.
posted by OHenryPacey at 9:38 AM on November 23, 2014 [2 favorites]


My request is that EVERYONE who reads this posting send at least one business card to him at:

Well, my uncle runs a funeral home. I'm guessing it would be in poor taste to send his card, even if it was the "World Record" breaker.
posted by ReeMonster at 10:19 AM on November 23, 2014


Interestingly, the link to the article will translate every click as coming from their facebook promotional feed (check the URL). Might I recommend using this alternative link to the article itself (http://gawker.com/this-kid-just-died-video-grief-porn-enters-the-faceb-1658876165) rather than the facebook-linked social media-infused URL in the OP?
posted by Hamadryad at 10:34 AM on November 23, 2014 [1 favorite]


Who initially recorded the video? Who shared it? The father? Somebody else?
The article doesn't mention it, and I don't want to watch it. But someone created it in the first place. I think that's got to be part of this conversation.
posted by Ratio at 11:23 AM on November 23, 2014 [1 favorite]


From what I understand, family members recorded it, and shared it with family members, and it slowly got outside of the initial social network of family and close friends to reach the attention of Buzzfeed.
posted by codacorolla at 12:15 PM on November 23, 2014


Okay, I'll say it.

What kind of person whips out the camera to capture a newly-widowed father singing to his dying baby and then posts it so it goes viral? Who is present at that moment of grief and thinks, "This is a recordable scene! People need to see this song because feelings amirite?"

What kind of ghoul does that? Who records a person's death and posts it? Where's the privacy? What the fuck is wrong with people?
posted by kinetic at 12:38 PM on November 23, 2014 [6 favorites]


What kind of person whips out the camera to capture a newly-widowed father singing to his dying baby and then posts it so it goes viral? Who is present at that moment of grief and thinks, "This is a recordable scene! People need to see this song because feelings amirite?"

The camera is really stable. I didn't read the back story, but I got the impression that perhaps the father did it himself. If so, it is related to the question of sharing grief, I think. Not only is there a more voyeuristic thing going on in general, but people are more readily sharing their own grief, through selfies or through videos like this. As a matter of fact, I think there may have been another FPP about this other side of things. It might have been tied into the story I remember of how the younger generation feels comfortable taking pictures at funerals and things like that.
posted by SpacemanStix at 1:23 PM on November 23, 2014


I don't know the father in question, but he is apparently a friend of a friend, because I saw the video on FB before it became a phenomenon. At that point it really was being passed around only by people on a first name basis with him.
posted by Beardman at 1:38 PM on November 23, 2014 [1 favorite]


I also don't really get where the Internet connection ties in. Maybe it's different in the US, I dunno, but here in Japan you see the same thing on every variety show with a brave-child-with-cancer-dies-heartbreakingly segment, and every news tabloid show with a segment on malnourished-and-neglected-child-dies-while-parents-spend-money-on-Chanel-bags. No Internet, or even video footage, required.
posted by Bugbread at 2:34 PM on November 23, 2014


this weird separation of sociability from intimacy

Thanks, that expresses exactly what certain online public/performative interactions lack. IM doesn't suffer as much from this and there's the odd community where people go on a limb or talk meaningfully.
posted by ersatz at 2:44 PM on November 23, 2014


Wow, is gawker this good now?
posted by batfish at 3:41 PM on November 23, 2014


Where's the privacy? What the fuck is wrong with people?

I wrote a thing about this years and years ago, now amusingly dated in its references to sites and services that seem charmingly primitive to their crack cocaine equivalents today.
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 3:44 PM on November 23, 2014 [2 favorites]


What kind of ghoul does that? Who records a person's death and posts it?

Robert Capa, Eddie Adams, and probably a hundred other Pulitzer Prize winners.

This is a different context for sure, but the urge to post dramatic images to memorialize a death, goes back to the very earliest days of photography.
posted by charlie don't surf at 3:57 PM on November 23, 2014 [2 favorites]


I could see why you'd record it. Your kid is dying. You want him to be remembered. You want people to know he existed and that you loved him.

Would I do it? Probably not. But I can understand the desire to keep the memento. To hold on to that moment when your child being alive was not past tense.

Myself, when I saw it in my "Trending" list, I made some post to the effect of "Facebook, I really don't want to hear about a dad singing to his dying son, thanks." and never clicked on the link; I removed it from my trends entirely, because I just couldn't. The immenseness of the tragedy was too much for me to bear. Most of my friends who responded to my post felt the same. It doesn't help that I'm also 7+ weeks pregnant and dwelling on these things right now.

Ultimately, I had "Blackbird" playing in a loop in my head (the version the Beatles sing) the rest of the week, until "Too Many Cooks" came along and dethroned it. The Internet giveth, and it taketh away.

I still feel really awful for that dad, and I hope that someday, everything can be -- if not right -- at least okay. I hope he comes back from this. I really want him to. I'd give him so many hugs if I saw him right now.
posted by offalark at 4:10 PM on November 23, 2014 [1 favorite]


The preponderance of "a bad thing happened, and you should feel upset" stories is actually why I've long avoided American TV news outlets in general; it is hardly a thing limited to the Internet in some way.

It's kind of harsh yet pragmatically honest that Japanese TV puts those sorts of stories on shows advertised as being fundamentally entertainment instead of trying to provide a veneer of respectability by pretending it's "news" and that eating that shit up makes you "informed" instead of just a gossipy voyeur.

And of course, going even farther back along that line, "a person did a bad thing and you should be shocked" is a pretty common trope in gossip, too, which is also part of why I try to avoid both that and like 90% of American political "news" too.

The main thing the Internet has changed is the delivery mechanism and efficient economies of scale.
posted by DoctorFedora at 5:16 PM on November 23, 2014 [1 favorite]




Absolutely I was just thinking to bring up some Victorian death photos.

Anyway I don't think the emotional porn is anything new. What's new is the incentives for people to expose their own stories for consumption by strangers have intensified, and there are dozens of companies offering "airtime" in exchange for... well that's a good question isn't it?

posted by atoxyl at 5:43 PM on November 23, 2014


I also don't really get where the Internet connection ties in. Maybe it's different in the US, I dunno, but here in Japan you see the same thing on every variety show with a brave-child-with-cancer-dies-heartbreakingly segment, and every news tabloid show with a segment on malnourished-and-neglected-child-dies-while-parents-spend-money-on-Chanel-bags. No Internet, or even video footage, required.

Yes, as DoctorFedora said, this sort of story is absolutely a staple of local TV news. (I used to call the news "Here's who died today.") Social media makes it a slightly weirder degree-of-remove and -of-intimacy, in that it tends to become "Here's a very personal story about a stranger that I'm sharing with my friends," rather than a public broadcast about a personal story, but I'm not sure the impulse to share such stories is anything new.

I removed it from my trends entirely, because I just couldn't.

I had no idea one could remove a story from that Trending list, and I am so very excited to learn that I can. Thank you!
posted by jaguar at 6:34 PM on November 23, 2014


This may be a feature of Social Fixer, a Chrome plugin that I use. I recommend it if you can install it. All I know is I click a little context-appearing red "x" next to any trend I don't want to see, and it vanishes. Good luck!
posted by offalark at 7:16 PM on November 23, 2014


Joakim Ziegler: ""Shareable unit" is somehow the ugliest thing I've read in a long time."

.
posted by boo_radley at 7:33 PM on November 23, 2014


This may be a feature of Social Fixer, a Chrome plugin that I use. I recommend it if you can install it. All I know is I click a little context-appearing red "x" next to any trend I don't want to see, and it vanishes. Good luck!

Just tried it on regular Facebook, and there is an "X" that shows up if you hover over the "Trending" link so that you can hide it. Perfect!
posted by jaguar at 7:45 PM on November 23, 2014


When I was a teenager I had this friend named Kevin and Kevin lived with his mother, Olga, and his two sisters in a hoarder's nightmare of a house. Olga was one of those older, beaten-down by life women who had a treasure trove of terrible stories of loss, illness, and tragedy. One day, on our way over there, we were discussing how much of a downer it was to ask Olga how she was because invariably you'd get a story of someone's baby dying of cancer or a friend's son who had died in a house fire. We'd smoked a joint and got quite giggly over the numerous horrible scenarios she always seemed to have at her disposal (long before there was an internet to get them from) and whether there was a newsletter or what. When we arrived, we said "Hi, Mrs. B, how are you?" and tried not to giggle at the anticipated tragedy we were about to be served. "Oh, I'm not too bad myself, but I had some bad news. A choir from the church was on tour and there was a terrible bus accident. Five kids were killed.", whereupon we fell into a fit of helpless laughter. Lately my Facebook account is like having 200 Olgas talking to me every day.
posted by alltomorrowsparties at 11:25 PM on November 23, 2014 [3 favorites]


Griefonomics: A Rogue Grief Therapist Explores the Hidden Side of Everything.

Now available at Amazon and Facebook.
posted by Purposeful Grimace at 11:31 PM on November 23, 2014


alltomorrowsparties: Olga sounds a bit like Proust's Françoise.
posted by Beardman at 6:58 AM on November 24, 2014 [1 favorite]


What kind of person whips out the camera to capture a newly-widowed father singing to his dying baby and then posts it so it goes viral?

Maybe the grandparents were on the way from the airport but they weren't going to get there in time. Maybe this is a family that shares videos on YT and they only get 12 hits but it is a convenient way to communicate.

Casting doubt on media outlets making money from this seems fair. But questioning the motives of someone in the midst of grief seems overly ungenerous. My father made a tribute video for my mother that played at her funeral, and he posted it on YT so that people who couldn't attend could watch it, and so that he had ready access to it wherever he was, whatever device he was using. It didn't go viral. Most of them don't. To assume that every video posted anywhere public is intended for an audience of millions is to ignore the way that most people use these forms of social media.
posted by a fiendish thingy at 8:33 AM on November 24, 2014


Casting doubt on media outlets making money from this seems fair. But questioning the motives of someone in the midst of grief seems overly ungenerous.

I absolutely see this point which had never occurred to me.

I reserve the right to be disgusted by media outlets making money off this.
posted by kinetic at 1:33 PM on November 24, 2014


I was struggling to express a particular intuition about people who do this online, and Kattallus mentions a term for it in another thread that seems to capture it, and it was a "ding" moment: catharsis of tragedy. People engage this kind of thing online for the same reason that we've engaged other forms of art (tragedies, horror, etc), and we've been doing it for quite awhile, just not always with the immediacy of real life examples and ubiquity of the internet:
Catharsis (from the Greek κάθαρσις katharsis meaning "purification" or "cleansing") is the purification and purgation of emotions—especially pity and fear—through art or any extreme change in emotion that results in renewal and restoration. It is a metaphor originally used by Aristotle in the Poetics to describe the effects of tragedy on the spectator.
People rarely gawk and emote to really enter into the suffering of others. They do it to feel more alive at the end of the day, because it isn't them. If this is true, then it does seem that we too often use the tragedy of others in a way that is superficial and is probably quite close to entertainment, rather than genuine empathy. I think there is room for deep moral reflection on what this means in terms of social implications.
posted by SpacemanStix at 9:14 AM on November 26, 2014


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