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Aurora, Penn State and the Fine Line Between Tragedy and Commerce

Two of the most horrific tragedies in recent memory have dominated the news cycles of late. I’m speaking, of course, about the Aurora shooting and the scandal at Penn State. And as a parent, one of my greatest struggles is determining how best to broach such topics with my children. While I’ve given the matter plenty of thought, I’m afraid my official policy is still a bit fuzzy.

In my defense, four of my five are way too young for such topics. The triplets are only four and our baby just turned one. But our ten-year-old is coming of age right before my very eyes, and whenever such stories break, it’s her I worry about most.

On the one hand, I don’t want to broach anything before she’s ready. But on the other, the last thing I want is for her to be forced to navigate the choppy seas of human tragedy all by herself. Or, perhaps worse, with the help of someone unqualified.

Given that, I’d rather err on the side of broaching something too soon than too late. And since both of these stories were garnering extreme media coverage, I figured she was going to hear about them one way or another. Which is why I decided to touch base with her. And I’m glad I did because they had, indeed, hit her radar.

Though she sure didn’t seem to know know very much about them. Maybe it’s because school is out and she’s too busy having fun in the summer sun to be brought down by such horrific tragedies. Or, maybe these stories were simply beyond her comprehension — maybe I had caught her too soon. Still, better than too late, I thought, as I continued down the path, albeit quite gingerly.

I lumped the stories together as “awful things” done by “bad people” and told her if she ever wanted to talk about them, or if she ever had any questions about them, I was always there for her. I did make clear, however, that these stories bring forth questions which don’t have any answers, or at least any good ones. And that they also evoke feelings and emotions which are extremely difficult if not impossible to reconcile.

It turned out she did have a few questions and through the course of the ensuing conversation, I discovered that she better understood the Aurora shooting. What a world, right? Between the two most prominent news stories of the day, the one about mass murder is the easier to comprehend.

Once our brief chat ran its course, my daughter scampered off and went back to being ten, while I flicked on the TV and continued being 42. And true to form, a cable news channel cut to what was by then a familiar scene — the outside of James Holmes’ booby-trapped apartment, a series of shots I’d seen several times already, prompting me to click over to ESPN where I caught (yet) another story about the Penn State scandal — one I’d already heard, albeit altered just enough to trot out before the viewers once again.

And suddenly, I found myself at that place where all such stories eventually lead. Where the coverage is less earnest, the sad looks on the faces of the anchors less genuine, the sheer repetition of the horrific series of events, a numbing agent which has necessitated the accentuation of what was once authentic. Where injustice is no longer being documented, where healing is no longer being initiated, but instead where eyeballs are being captured.

Where we hear all the same things we originally heard, and where we trick ourselves into believing we’re still mourning the victims, still contemplating the evil which converted them to such by reliving the ghoulish deeds over and over and over again. Where we beat the horse well beyond dead. Where we beat it hard enough to somehow bring it back to life, but only so we can kill it again with the clubs of our righteous indignation.

That whored out place found deep within the shadow of evil, regardless of which incarnation it happens to be. Oklahoma City. Columbine. 9-11. The DC sniper. Where the tawdry marketplace awaits. The one that seeks to satisfy the demand of our collective natural depravity which renders us defenseless against the hypnotic thrall of darkness.

Where horror has been commoditized and tragedy has become commerce.

And suddenly I realized that there was something else I’d eventually have to broach with my children.

I drummed my fingers on the arm of my chair and wondered how best to do it.

Photo Credit, Photo Credit

Read more of JCO Multiplied:
10 Things I Wish My 10 Year Old Daughter Knew
Dogs vs. Infants
15 Things Every Stepparent Should Know
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Check out my personal blog over at JohnCaveOsborne(dot)com

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