Growing up I used to watch the Roadrunner outsmart Wile E. Coyote. I used to get great enjoyment out of the latest disaster befalling him, usually at the hands of a purchase from Acme Inc. As I got older the cartoonified antics of the hapless duo made way for TV and film gore; and as technology improved so did the explicitness of the imagery.
How did I/we cope? I believe part of our evolutionary process is a change in the way our brains process images and narrative that are distressing to us. But something seems to have gone very, very wrong. It’s like our brain can only process this information in one way, so it either has to accept everything as fact or everything as fiction. And to self-preserve it has opted for the latter. Our tolerance of graphic violence is far greater than it ever was. When we see news of genuine human suffering we experience an initial sense of the realness; panic, fear, revulsion, anger, distress. These then give way to apathy, often disguised as ‘thank god it’s not me’ or ‘out of sight, out of mind’.
Recently I received an email from Greenpeace about the refugee crisis. They believe apathy has set in, and in their words “…have we become desensitised…”. Have we? I don’t know?
I got an idea for a future blog about why negativity sells, but if this is the case, and in my experience it is, then why do we so quickly become immune to this and other situations that still continue? Some cases in point are Nepal, Haiti, New Orleans, fracking, older people, young people…and the list goes on. This seems to be a contradiction in the conditioning of human response; immunity to tragedy and violence vs. negative outselling positive.
How can this be?
I can only assume that the perceived apathy towards humanitarian issues isn’t about being desensitised, because if it was we would fail to respond to any type of emotive marketing, unless it was pitched at our own unsatisfied consumerist longings. But we do respond to so many other things and have responded to these issues, initially. The interest quickly wanes, with each event having a shelf-life in peoples psyche. So what makes us stop?
If I were able to answer this question I could bottle it and make a fortune, but alas I’m no closer to the solution than anyone else. But in terms of fundraising it raises the problem of how to keep people interested in your cause because, let’s face it, you’re pretty much communicating the same message time and time again, albeit dressed in different clothes. Is it any wonder that fundraising is such a hard job? You’ll probably argue that it’s the same for any marketing but I don’t think it is. How many of us are devotees of certain brands or products? The marketing has locked us in and ensured continued income, but when you have a tangible product that runs out and needs replacing, life and marketing become so much easier than when all you have to sell are the ‘warm fuzzies’ and someone’s sense of well-being.
I’m going to ponder these ideas for a while and try and make sense of them. I can conclude that we haven’t become completely apathetic to the plight of others; we just need to hear about it in a different way.