The disappearance of Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 has been a sensational news story. CNN as well as a number of other news networks have seen their ratings spike due to this story as the (probable) deaths of 227 passengers and 12 crew members of this unfortunate 777 flight which has (probably) crash landed in the South Indian Ocean. The most likely explanation that I have read about the story actually didn’t come through a news outlet but rather from a pilot on social media here
This has got me thinking – why are stories about plane disasters so captivating and so sensational? Tragic deaths are always interesting to the human psyche. Yet these are not the only people to die tragically since the disappearance of this Boeing 777. Most statistics show us that on average 153,000 people die on a daily basis. Of this number 16,000 are children, tragically dying of diseases related to malnutrition. These are averages and speak of general suffering taking place throughout the world, yet statistics generally do not move us emotionally or intrigue us, they just sadden us and make us feel somewhat helpless. This means since the deaths of those on the unfortunate flight, millions of others have died, with most not receiving wall to wall coverage by CNN.
There is something about plane travel that many of us (and most of CNN’s audience) will relate to. Sitting helpless in a metal tube at 35000 feet in the air. I’m sure many who travel run the scenarios of these tragedies through their heads when they travel on a plane. Which means when tragedies like this or 9/11 happen the played out scenarios in our heads are reinforced and the audience is therefore not repelled by the story, but rather intrigued as that scenario could happen to them.
News is inherently self absorbed. It is really only news if it applies to an individual. This was brought forcefully home to me over a decade ago. I had just come from the UK, where Sky News had wall to wall coverage of a missing school girl, who was tragically found murdered. I at the time was visiting Rwanda. We met with the Prime Minister who wanted us to visit the Genocide Memorial that was about to open. A very tragic burial site of 250,000 who died in the genocide of ’94, which saw 1 million murdered in the space of 100 days. As I got back into my military escort afterwards I asked the driver if he had had any family or friends murdered. He almost casually answered that 50 of his family and friends had been killed during the genocide. Each death during this genocide was horrific. I was shocked. How had this genocide not had the same news coverage. The answer is complex – but ultimately comes down to the fact that News is only told if the news agencies think it is applicable to the audience – we are self absorbed.
This might be seen as somewhat of a morbid post, however I do think that thinking about death is healthy. Moses encourages in his Psalm to ask God to help us number our days in order that we might gain a “heart of wisdom”. Other studies of show that thinking about death actually sets your priorities straight and is psychologically healthy. So today you might want to do what I used to do regularly on my home from work – walk through a cemetery! It’s good once and in a while to get a sense of your own mortality and see that you are like grass in comparison to YHWH.