16 December 2012

The Levite's concubine and the new media

by Dr Yael Klangwisan

The last year has seen some turbulent clashes between the mainstream media and social media, requiring the intervention of government in the West. In fact in the last year this clash came to a head in Britain with the Leveson Inquiry. The Leveson Inquiry sought to restore (arguably) a moral compass to that nation’s journalism that was reaching new lows in order to feed insatiable global interest in the objects (willing or unwilling) of celebrity, tragedy and royalty. The British media were certainly not alone but the boundaries of the press, common decency and privacy had entered new and dark terrain.

One of the most saddening events occurring recently was facilitated by the global media machine and brought these three (celebrity, tragedy and royalty) together again. This was that of the hospitalisation of the youthful and beautiful Duchess of Cambridge, and then the two, ambitious Sydney DJs looking for just the right platform to gain their own celebrity, and a nurse, caught in the middle, who would become the victim of tragedy.

It was the perfect storm. The ever-decreasing boundaries of media responsive to the corporate push for profits and the competitive race for consumer ratings, the insatiable demand for the new, novel, and the secret particularly in the entertainment industry meant that it was an epic moment of consumerist lust and then someone died.

Bring in the social media. What followed was a week of global soul-searching and consciousness-raising on comments sections of the very media websites and news outlets that had played out the tragic drama the week before. There was a global outpouring of frustration and rage at the injustice committed against the innocent. Facebook and Twitter attracted hundreds of thousands of posts from consumers, like you and me, railing against a society that could fool and flay the innocent in such a way. The two DJs became the next victims, complicit though they were in their own dilemma, but castigated to such a degree in social media, that they are still, reportedly in hiding.

The new media makes the objects of its glare completely vulnerable. Never before has information been so readily available and accessible. People become objects of daily consumption. The tragic text of the Levite’s concubine (Judges 19) finds some new relevance here reframed as a cautionary metaphor of vulnerability in the face of the insatiability of global media. Who was the ‘Levite’s concubine’ in the scenario that played out in the press last week?: the pregnant woman so ill that she was in hospital, the innocent nurse who answered a hoax call, the two DJs who are now objects of global scorn. Perhaps we could find a way to take the Levite’s declaration to heart in this contemporary setting of the powerful new media and its fateful consequences: “Such a thing has not happened nor has been seen from the day that the children of Israel came up out of the land of Egypt unto this day; consider it, take counsel, and speak.”

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