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30 August 2013

From Cyrus to Syria

From Cyrus to Syria

Photo: Wikicommons

During a week in which the world responds to horrific images of innocents gassed in their beds, it’s strange to read about another story dominating both news and social media sites. The provocative performance of former Disney teen star, Miley Cyrus, at this week’s MTV awards where she pushed the limits of decency, has been hotly discussed online and on air.

Both events have riled or stirred up readers, who like me cannot resist clicking the links to see further details and discover whether they really are as alarming as reported. Unfortunately, neither is capable of eliciting as much shock as they should. I admit that I'm becoming desensitised to outrageous depictions or imagery of most kinds. Descriptions of atrocities sit column inches along from accounts of pop star raunchiness. The former are clearly barbaric; the latter seem vacuous and unworthy of news space.

In an era of instant and constant news, photos and videos, we are bombarded with injustices, horrors and outrageous acts. Sensationalism sells. But has it now dulled our senses to such an extent that we don’t really care anymore? The way we are overwhelmed with images of destruction or degeneration may skew our perceptions and reactions. A quick glance at the headline images, and then I can easily forget about them until the next media furore.

Could this, in part, explain the apparent majority consensus that we should avoid intervention in Syria? Are we so used to seeing images of death and suffering that their impact on our senses has been lessened? Reactions to the presumed Assad attacks range from calls for immediate intervention to sighs of outrage, followed by pleas for total avoidance at all costs.

Regrettably, neither response would appear to do justice to the people involved. And thus begins the tricky phase of negotiations with the United Nations and debates in parliament as to whether Britain should pursue air strikes on the Syrian regime. Should Western politicians condemn the senseless acts and leave it at that, or should they seek to exert international law and/or topple a rogue state?

Whatever comparisons are made to Blair and the Iraq war, whatever your opinions are on the effectiveness or futility of military intervention, the fact remains that there is untold suffering across many nations at any one time. Atrocities are inflicted daily on fellow human beings on land occupied by despot rulers as well as in democratic states. What constitutes that ‘crossing the line’ of unacceptable acts of which President Obama speaks, is not easy to weigh up. Is it numbers that count? If ‘only’ three were gassed, would that not stir outrage? In his parable of the lost sheep, Jesus refers to the value of every individual, to an extent that the shepherd leaves the 99 unguarded as he pursues the rescue of one. Through the lens of faith, even the destruction of one should unsettle us.

And yet, as modern media allows continual reporting across all regions on every continent, crises seem to abound at every turn. No individual, politician or head of state can possibly prevent or atone for every abhorrent act.

Though poles apart, both geographically and in subject matter, the Cyrus and Syria stories reflect a growing tendency to absorb news content like a fast food meal, without properly chewing it over. Both news stories demonstrate the power of the media to demand our attention,  to shock and to evoke reactions and responses. Do we run the risk of rushing to quick judgements without considering all the causes and effects? The speed at which news and images are uploaded onto online pages surely plays a part in this. What is in fact behind the stories that led to the headlines?

I would hope Miley Cyrus and her ilk might take into account the influence they exert over young teenagers to engage in overt displays of a sexual nature and consider their role in decimating family values. But far more pressing, I pray that at this time of uncertainty and fear our leaders in the Commons will make wise, not hasty decisions. In spite of last night's parliamentary vote, it's still relevant to pray for guidance in the days ahead, as US involvement could have repercussions that affect the UK. I also don’t want to ever become complacent about what I see and hear in the media. Both stories concern real people in the real world. Both may lead to unintended consequences. As Christians, how can we be a light in the ensuing darkness? How can we stand up for our own wordviews, shaped by biblical concepts, in the listening world around us, or are we also swayed at times by the latest popular response?

Annie Carter is a writer, blogger and volunteer educator for Evaluate.