Pete Davison: Feel What You Feel

Posted on July 23, 2011 by

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It’s been a couple of days of bad news, what with the horrible attacks in Norway and today’s sad but unsurprising news that Amy Winehouse’s somewhat tentative grip on life has finally given out.

Online and broadcast discussion of these matters has been interesting to observe. The media has been all over both of them, as you might expect. The reporting of Winehouse’s death was a bit obnoxious, to be honest, with a constant live stream of the view of her street, presumably hoping to see something — anything — newsworthy. In the time I watched, there was nothing newsworthy besides the fact that she had died. The BBC strung this out with a series of quotes from a bizarre selection of people, including the ex-prime minster Gordon Brown’s wife.

A lot of Twitter got all indignant earlier on at people expressing sadness over Winehouse’s death while considerably more people had died in Norway. Then people got indignant about people’s indignance, saying that it’s OK to feel things about both pieces of news. Then people got indignant about this, saying that there are people starving in the world, etc. etc. It could have continued indefinitely — I haven’t really looked since earlier, but there was severe risk of an infinite loop of indignance going on.

I kind of agree with the second group. As the version of Stalin in Command & Conquer: Red Alert said, “when one man dies, it is a tragedy; when one million die, it is a statistic” (Aside: according to Wikiquotes, this is commonly misattributed to Stalin. I did not know that. TIL.). That may be a harsh way of putting it, but there’s a sort of logic to it; when we hear about the death toll in Norway, it’s horrifying, but difficult to picture all the individual faces if you didn’t know anyone affected personally. Contrast that with Amy Winehouse, whose face everyone knows, and it’s easy to see why some people might take that a bit more “personally” despite not knowing her themselves — it’s more relatable and, in some ways, easier to deal with.

However, that doesn’t mean that it’s a case of all or nothing, one or the other. You can feel bad about both things. You can feel bad about those things and the starving children in the world, too, if you like. Or, if you’re going through a difficult time in your own life, you can feel free to say “fuck it” to all that and be selfish, too. There’s no shame in your own individual feelings, particularly in this media- and Internet-saturated world where it often feels like the things we’re supposed to feel about a “tragedy” are prescribed to us, and anyone who doesn’t conform is not being appropriately sympathetic or empathetic.

I say feel whatever you want to feel. If you knew someone in Norway who was killed in the attacks, mourn them. If you knew Amy Winehouse, mourn her. If you didn’t know anyone involved directly, feel bad for the people who were affected if you want to, but don’t feel guilty if the things that are happening to you feel like they’re taking priority. The relative severity of incidents gets proportionally amplified the closer they are to you — so something relatively “minor” in the grand scheme of things may seem like the most important thing in the world to you, even with all these other things going on. And that’s OK.

The reason I say this is because of the way I spent a lot of last year feeling. Grief is a terrible thing and sometimes it feels like it will never end, but the worst thing I feel you can do while you’re grief-stricken is feel guilty about it.

So feel what you feel without guilt. It’s your business, and no-one else’s.

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Posted in: Pete Davison