Forget Thunberg and Trump, talk sacrifice and real heroes
The hunger for stories on social and the news media about foibles and follies of people remains undiminished.
Every weekend I take great pains to reflect on an event or an incident from the previous week that has affected me the most. It stems from some inexplicable angst as I attempt to calm my mind. But last week was different. A tragedy in distant China that was caused by hunger rattled me out of my comfort zone. It also threw up an unlikely heroine in Wu Huayan for her life of sacrifice.
The sad story, while leaving me ashamed about human depravity, the moral corruption that makes us look the other way from suffering despite the information overload that we are subjected to on a daily basis, also gave me reason to hope as a journalist in the (show) business of news.
It made me wonder about over-the-top celebrations through food and drink. There's nothing wrong with partying and making a show on social media but the tragic death of the young woman was an emotional gut punch from which I am yet to recover.
The deceased woman was known for her weight in China, according to a report. She was just 47 pounds, or a little more than 21 kgs. Wu was only 24 years old. She had cared for her differently-abled brother since he was four, after her mother died. Her father later succumbed to poverty because he couldn't afford to pay for his treatment. She survived on boiled rice and pickled chilli for years. Last October, she gave up the fight and had to be admitted to a hospital. China was shocked, and people collected 1 million yuan ($145,000) for her treatment.
"I don't want to experience that - to wait for death because of poverty," she said from her hospital bed as the nation watched. The show had to go on. But it didn't and all the money in the world couldn't save Wu's life.
The hunger for stories on social and the news media about foibles and follies of people remains undiminished. Much anguish is shed, shared, and shred. We live with excess where everything is programmed to overflow. Information batters us as we fall behind when it comes to values which makes our rootlessness more profound.
I always wonder how journalists can make it better for the masses, the hoi polloi that policy-makers seek to dismiss as they gather in exotic places like Davos for the annual World Economic Forum. Many have projected the event as a battle between the likes of Greta Thunberg and Donald Trump. It makes good copy - a badass billionaire president versus a nice, young climate activist.
Both have lived a charmed life in the rich West. They are modern media creations who have been set up to grab our attention and become the feast at party conversations.
A political showman taking on the young liberal green icon who should have been in school, Thunberg was even nominated for the Nobel Prize as Trump covets one after bumping off two terror 'icons' (Daesh leader Abu Bakr Al Baghdadi and Iranian General Qassem Soleimani).
The challenge for the media in the online age of polarisation is how to prise out and raise issues while making people think for themselves, to become community-minded, and to shed the apathy that has enveloped them.
Instead, people are presented with a clash of personalities and civilisations that are taking them to a dark digital age where domains like the Dark Net and the Deep Dark Net are not alien anymore.
In most cases, I realise that the media is fuelling these divisions, making them worse and powering them to a point of no return where it is hard to get back to where it all started - at the human level.
Information overload is hard to bear for most people who are only concerned about the daily grind: about bread, about eking out a living, seeking financial independence (sorry, Harry and Meghan) from the crumbs that life throws at them.
But the media, in its relentless quest to garner attention and to keep people rivetted through text, videos, and graphics may have missed the real story. There's also fake stuff that is peddled by the digital illuminati for virtual illiterates who are caught up in the vicious cycle of online madness that now rules real lives. The effect can stultify; people lose interest; they don't care, and when they do, they embark on some charitable cause which they insist others ought to know. Young Wu's death is a wake-up call for policy czars sitting in their ivory towers. Why not spare a thought for the 820 million people who go to bed hungry every day for a change?
Let's talk pragmatic food policy and sustainable livelihoods for people in Africa and Asia where hunger is rampant. Davos should recognise Wu's sacrifice because she matters to our conscience. She died for a cause and gave us stomach to resume the global war against hunger.
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