Feb 6, 2013

You Do Not Live In Newtown, Conn. And Neither Do I

By Josh Oakley


In the wake of a national tragedy, it can be easy to make judgement calls surrounding the media's response to whatever awful horror occurred. This is vital, of course, especially in the age of splintering journalism. Leading viewers or readers to an incorrect Facebook page was an incredibly terrible thing to do. Interviewing children on camera was questionable at best. And while critiquing the journalists for doing their jobs incorrectly or unethically is important, passing judgement on the fringe effects is much more complicated. 

It was recently announced that a group of children who reside in Newtown, Conn. (a number of whom attend Sandy Hook Elementary School) will perform "Call Me Maybe" at the Grammys this Sunday. The immediate reaction of many (including myself) is disgust. Words such as "exploitation" have been circling endlessly, and not unfairly. The true motive behind this performance is unknowable, and should be discussed. 

There are a number of problems with this immediate dismissal of events, however. To begin, you cannot claim to know the "why" that led to this decision. In a society overrun with talk of profit margins and ratings and a whole slew of terms that always, always lead everything back to money, it is simple to assume that this is just another ploy to get viewers for the awards show. But the fact of the matter is that we don't know. This alone does not wash the producers' hands clean, of course, but let us, for the time being, exist in a universe where humane rich people is a possibility.

No? This is too impossible to comprehend? Well, I fully understand, and agree to your terms. We shall admit that those behind the Grammys want as many eyes as possible, and will exploit anyone to get them, even children who had to witness a horrific tragedy that sapped the life-force out of most of America. Here we have the other central issue: the conversation is mostly focused on the adults that have made this decision. Not, oddly enough, on the children themselves.

Whatever the motivation behind the performance, these kids get to sing "Call Me Maybe" on national television. They get to stand on the stage where many people they adore stand, and belt out a big, great pop song for the entire country to hear. That is awesome. I don't think the motives really matter at that point, do they? If rich people happen to get slightly richer because of this, does that evil outweigh the good of these kids' experience? I hardly think so. 

We put ourselves into the shoes of victims because we, as human beings, empathize. We do so to be kind, but mostly we do so to attempt some small level of understanding on our own behalf. I am among those who spent much of that sitting around, crying, twiddling my thumbs and calling my family. I started drinking at 2 or 3 p.m., I think. But fuck me.

I was not in that school, or that town, on that day. And neither were you. We can, and should, care about the tragedy, not just on a human, emotional level, but on a legal, practical one as well (the level of discourse in much of the gun-control debate right now shows that we didn't really live up to that, but that is for a different article by an actual journalist). We should care because something unbelievably awful happened that day and it was very sad, but it did not happen to us. How profoundly arrogant of us to call out the Grammys in an attempt to "stick up" for these kids as if they or their parents are our friends.

This is a direct quote from Sabrina Post: "This opportunity to do something positive lets the kids know that although a lot of things happen in our world that are not pleasant, like this that happened with us in Newtown, there are many giving people and wonderful things that can come out of life, so don't get discouraged. It teaches them to use their gifts to work through things."

Post is the head of a performing arts school in Newtown, and leads the young singers. She both knows these children and lives in this community. She knows better than you do. Automatically. She is there, with them. You are not.

As this news coverage grows, the backlash will only intensify, and that really is a shame. Because if you had been through a tragedy such as this, is there anything you would rather do than sing "Call Me Maybe" at the Grammys? The answer: you have no clue. Because you did not go through that tragedy.

We, as a society, should work to fight for better gun control (or something! anything! let's just do something). We should try to make sure a tragedy like this does not happen again (but, again, given the discussions going on right now, it will. It is the absolute worst truth, but it is the truth). We should try to keep journalists in check. We should, on a certain level, work to curb the exploitation of victims of a tragedy. 

But the kids agreed to do this. Their parents agreed to do this. The choir teacher agreed to do this. This should be enough for you. Because those kids and parents live in Newtown, Conn. You do not. I do not. We all live in America, yes. But we do not live in that town, so let's stop pretending that we do.

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