Three days of national mourning were declared as a consequence of the horrendous fire and the tragic loss of 62 lives. Now, I confess my ignorance regarding the practical application of such a decree, but the truth is… yesterday mid-afternoon I heard fireworks in the distance (yep, fireworks… after all that has happened). And through the night there were echoes of a street party somewhere out there. Now, I know both are common practice at this time of year, and communities look forward to these moments for quite a while, but… how does one reconcile national mourning with these apparent manifestations of joy?
Could media be playing a role in this apparent paradox? Yesterday evening a TV channel alternated live broadcasts with an edit of footage that included people crying, fires raging, burnt cars, exhausted firemen, populations in a panic… all of it to the sound of a Max Richter-type orchestral piece of some kind. I dare say the whole thing felt… poetic. It genuinely felt like a Hollywood trailer. It ultimately felt like a taming of the sheer horror, a smoothing of the untranslatable.
The question is, do these professional edits of tragedy footage help us mourn, or do they create a semantic distancing and render it “consumable”? Do we shed tears for the actual loss, or do we shed tears because “sad music and slow motion fire” press the right buttons in our psyche? Is it OK for TV channels to show images of burnt vehicles where people died, and then go straight to advertising the new Audi during a commercial break (yes, it happened yesterday)? And how can we shift between mourning and celebration in the space of a couple of hours?
I genuinely have no answers to these questions, but find them worth asking.