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Televised Trauma: How Media Manipulates Others’ Suffering

In July of 2018, it was reported that the young members of a Thai boy’s sports team and their coach were trapped in a system of caves. For nearly two weeks, great efforts were put forth to rescue the team. Though none of the young boys’ lives were lost, or their coach, one Thai Navy SEAL lost his life in the effort. The trauma of the team was televised internationally as viewers around the world anxiously awaited their safe rescue.

Vox did an analysis on the airtime dedicated to the coverage of the Thai boys’ plight. The website found a considerable increase in coverage between the eighth and ninth of July, shortly before the boys’ rescue. Brian Resnick, the article’s author, argues that the international focus on the whole ordeal was really making a spectacle out of a very real trauma for these young men. Being a society of spectacle, as theorist Guy Debord would argue, the celebrity-esque attention devoted to the young Thai men will not likely evaporate any time soon. Resnick suggests that their newfound international renown “will exacerbate whatever trauma they underwent in the dark.”

Resnick makes another important argument about spectacularizing trauma in the media. No doubt that what the young Thai team and their coach, as well as the many military and rescue teams who helped them, has been significant and traumatizing. However, the impact of the event is minimal in terms of body count. Compared to significant natural disasters or terrorism events, the damage is small. It is important to understand Resnick is not comparing the plight of one human’s trauma to another, but society’s voyeuristic tendencies.

“We tend to care more about the dramatic tragedies that strike a relatively small number of people, and grow numb to the slow, ongoing horrors that inflict millions,” Resnick writes. “Twelve boys were trapped in a cave, yes. But there are millions of children living in war zones.”

Resnick’s point is painfully poignant because of its accuracy. Everyday around the world children are surviving unspeakable traumas without the dedicated government support, military effort, and international television ratings to accompany them. While the Thai boys gain recognition, millions of other children remain faceless, helpless, and unhealed in the trauma they are constantly enduring.

Look to our next blog for a discussion on authentic empathy and what Tim Recuber, author of Consuming Catastrophe: Mass Culture in America’s Decade of Disaster 1st Edition calls “empathetic hedonism”.

At The Guest House Ocala, we welcome everyone who has experienced trauma and, as a result, is suffering from addictions, mental health disorders, or other manifestations. Our programs are custom tailored to the specific experiences and needs of each client. Everyone has a story. Change yours today. Call us at Call 1-855-483-7800.