I WOKE UP AT 6:17 a.m. Tuesday when an old friend of mine from high school, who now attends the University of California, San Diego, sent me a message linking me to an article on CNN.
Later that morning, Fresno State student Jonquel Brooks was arrested in connection with a shooting in the University Village apartment complex that left two of his peers injured and one dead after a dispute, reportedly involving a PlayStation console.
Reports of the shooting started filtering on to the Internet early yesterday morning, and by 7 a.m., even our own Web site had posted news of the incident. By nine, most major networks were reporting accounts of the incident, and was the top story on news stations across the Valley.
And at 10:37 a.m., our editor in chief received a call from Andrea Amiel, a senior producer of CNNâ€™s “Nancy Grace” show, about potentially doing an interview Tuesday afternoon. Our editor in chief proceeded to inform the producers that the campus of Fresno State was, more or less, under control â€” that most students and the Fresno State community were aware that one person had died and two had sustained injuries. We had a handle on the situation and had gone about our regular lives.
An hour later, the “Nancy Grace” producers contacted her again saying they would not be able to get a satellite truck out to the campus. Simultaneously, several miles south of the campus, police detained and arrested Brooks.
And from there, the story lost steam and eventually, the national media turned its hungry eyes elsewhere.
In the final lines of his “MusÃ©e des Beaux-Arts,” poet W. H. Auden describes a scene from Pieter Breughelâ€™s “Landscape with the Fall of Icarus.” The excerpt is as follows:
. . . the sun shone
As it had to on the white legs disappearing into the green
Water; and the expensive delicate ship that must have seen
Something amazing, a boy falling out of the sky,
Had somewhere to get to and sailed calmly on.
Auden intends to suggest that the public at large ignores the plight of the disenfranchised, those who exist on the margins of society.
He proposes that we only take time to bothered by those things that directly impact our own personal interests.
After Tuesday, itâ€™s not hard to believe how this might apply to the popular media. When it turned out that Fresno State was not Virginia Tech redux, the national media lost interest. As one of my music professors mentioned to methe day of the shooting, it seems as though, in the eyes of the popular media, there is a quota, a quantitative minimum of casualties, for such a story to escalate from an “incident” to a “tragedy.”
And while that might accurately reflect one realm of the public sphere, does it really reflect the public at large? As individuals, are we really as insensitive as our television stations to the “minor” crises that afflict small communities in major ways?
By some stroke of serendipity, I witnessed two motorcycle accidents in as many weeks. With the first, I saw a car collide with the motorcyclist as I was waiting at an intersection a block north of the accident site. I watched the rider fly off his bike and come crashing down, legs splayed, against the pavement.
Within a matter of moments, part of a crowd that had been watching a soccer game across the street had flooded the intersection, making calls to emergency services, directing traffic and helping the drivers of the two vehicles. By the time I arrived at the intersection, the process was already well-organized, refined and functional.
This, all in a matter of about a minute.
The quickness of the response coupled with the sheer number of people willing to help leads me to believe that this sort of response is intuitive, instinctual and in direct contrast to the mediaâ€™s response to personal tragedies. I drove away, feeling a lot like Audenâ€™s ship, but with a crowd of good samaritans in my rearview mirror. The fact is, there was no place for my help.
Another situation under control.
In writing this for The Collegianâ€™s last issue of the school year, I am reminded of two things from the beginning of the year. The first, more obvious parallel is with the attempted bank robbery that occurred during the first week of classes. The second is to the first article of a fellow columnist, Timothy Ellison.
Ellisonâ€™s article implores students to go out of their way to help people in need. Despite the reaction of the national media to our own communityâ€™s current crisis, I am convinced that on a personal level, we often do respond exactly as Ellison would like us to.
Tuesday night, at 11:30 p.m., there was a vigil scheduled for Brant Daniels, the student who died at the shooting.
We are a fundamentally good people, and while Auden is right in identifying the occasional “expensive delicate ship,” as individuals, we do what we can when we identify need, and do not let our neighbors drown.