Jul. 23rd, 2011

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I wish I could write something about the hideous events in Norway. This morning, getting up to see that the death toll was far higher than had been estimated yesterday, I read about teenagers trying to swim for their lives - swim for their lives, like something that would happen in a teen slasher movie but it's real - and I started crying. It's almost impossible to say anything about it that doesn't feel trivial or obvious.

I think that's why so many more people have jumped on tweeting/facebooking about Amy Winehouse's death. This followed a predictable pattern: people tweet that she's died, say it's a tragedy/waste of her talent etc. People instantly write blogs about how the media/fame/attitudes toward addiction are to blame. Other people tweet about how this isn't that big a deal compared to what's happened in Norway and we should all get some perspective. A little circus right there, of course, the way there always is at the death of a celebrity. People understand the circus; it's easy to pick your particular ride on the carousel and go with it, whether you're riding the "I love Amy & I'm going to listen to Frank all night in tribute" horse, or the one that's "I'll compile a list of other musicians in the 27 club and say she was one of them/say she doesn't really compare" or the horse that's all about how you are watching the real news, not focusing on the death of one drug addict.

Facebook and twitter are great for the fast dissemination of small gobs of opinion. When it comes to the slaughter of a hundred people, many of them juveniles, it's harder to find something valuable to say. Indeed, most of the responses to the Norway killings have been, in one way or another, about Muslim extremism and how this attack fits into a modern preconception of what "terrorism" means. It became, almost instantly, yet another way for the Left and Right to argue with one another. Arguments which, of course, move us away from the reality of what has happened into the comfort of ideological discourse. When it comes down to it, most of us will look at the pictures of the police searching the grey waters and the sundappled trees of Utoeya and find ourselves unable to speak. Around this tragedy we can say all sorts of things. The media is already analysing Anders Behring Breivik based on a few scraps of public knowledge; people are talking about how unfair it is that this is not going to make people suspicious of blond white men the way the aftermath of 9/11 and July 7th made people look askance at Muslims; discussions are arising about freedom and comparing the Norwegian government's response to other western nations' responses following terrorist attacks, even though it is really far too early to know how this will impact on Norwegian life. A number of these discussions are important, but they are still not really about what actually happened. There's a reason we have, for example, a minute's silence in tribute to our fallen dead in World War I. Sometimes, in the face of great loss, there is nothing that can be said.


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