Published on Wednesday, March 30, 2005 by CommonDreams.org
Why I Don't Care About Terry Schiavo
by Joyce Marcel
In ghoulish anticipation, the whole world wakes up each morning and asks, "Is she dead yet?" I think it's disgusting.
I'm not a heartless person, but I don't care about Terri Schiavo. I don't care about Scott Peterson, either. I regard Michael Jackson as a freak of plastic surgery, but then, I regard Arnold Schwartzenegger that way, too, and he's the governor of California. I didn't care about OJ - he did it, he got away with it, his kids will pay the price. Going back some, I didn't care about Pam Smart, either. (But I loved the way Nicole Kidman played her in the film). Have I left anyone out?
How can I not care? Because I refuse to have my emotions manipulated by the news media.
These are serious times, and I guess I'm a serious person. From the media, I'd like to learn more about America's debt load, and whether it's good for China and Japan to own so much of our country. I'd like to know about our plans for competing with China and India for oil and other natural resources. Come to think of it, I'd like to see a detailed analysis of whether we're really running low on oil. Will we run out during our lifetimes, or are the doom prophesies scare tactics, allowing billionaires to make more billions on the backs of the rest of us?
I'd like to know the implications of the dollar's shrinkage against the Euro.
Politically, just about everything my government does worries me. And then there's the war in Iraq.
With all of this to think about, I'm appalled that America is spending what's left of its intellectual capital on one unfortunate woman who has been brain dead for 15 years. (And if Terri Schiavo had been anything other than brain dead, she would have long ago woken up in a rage at her parents for allowing those humiliating videos to be shown all over the world.)
The job of the news media is to provide information and allow us to form educated opinions. In this case, it has seriously failed.
For example, the root cause of all this hysteria is bulimia and negative female body images. Why aren't we hearing more about that? What was Mrs. Schiavo's relationship with her parents before she became ill? What was Michael Schiavo's relationship with them? Isn't this really an "in-laws from hell" story? Did Mrs. Schiavo really say she did not want to be a vegetable? How can we know? Why did Michael Schiavo wait so long to try and end his wife's life? If caring for her was too huge a burden (and how could it have been anything else?), why wouldn't he turn her guardianship over to her family?
Without solid information, we are trapped in a kind of moral-political sinkhole. It's like fiercely arguing about batting averages without having a statistics book. There's no point in it.
Watching politicians posture and pose over "the sanctity of life" infuriates me. Where did this suddenly "pro-life" George W. Bush come from, this man who used the death penalty to murder around 150 people - including children and the mentally incompetent - when he was governor of Texas, and whose regard for American and Iraqi lives is so minuscule that he neither cares about putting them in harm's way nor pays attention to the thousands wounded and dead as the result of his arrogant policies? What right has he got to be pontificating here?
And if his brother, Jeb, really feels so strongly about Terri Schiavo that he is willing to defy the courts and send his goons to kidnap her, then let him install her in the master bedroom at the Florida's governor's mansion and change her diapers himself.
In this case, Jesus hit the nail on the head when he said, "Judge not, that ye be not judged."
The truth is, though, that these bloviating politicians don't know any more about Terri Schiavo than the rest of us. We are all being manipulated.
"Recent history is full of images that have trumped context to shape public opinion," writes Ginia Bellafante in The New York Times. In 1996, for example, endless pictures of young JonBenet Ramsey dressed like a hooker "lent an air of perversity to the child's parents, which focused the public's suspicion exclusively on them." However, lie-detector tests later exonerated them.
"From the birth of photography, social critics have feared the camera's subjectivity and the potential use of pictures to manipulate the emotions of the masses," Bellafante said. "Eddie Adams' picture of a Vietcong captive at the moment of his execution by a pistol-wielding Vietnamese official became a symbol of the anti-war movement. The photo won a Pulitzer Prize, but Mr. Adams later disavowed it, in part because the executioner claimed that the man he killed had murdered the family of one of his aides hours earlier."
News isn't about news or information any more, it's only about conveying emotion. Terri Schiavo's fate is a tragic, private family matter and in her case, as in so many others, we should refuse to allow our emotions to be manipulated.
Joyce Marcel is a free-lance journalist who lives in Vermont and writes about culture, politics, economics and travel. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.