The aesthetics of death

  • Médias 
  • lundi 22 février 2016 à 11:55 GMT

Leila-Alaoui-©-Yassine-Toumi-2-680x365

I feel like a scavenger, writing these words, but I’m not getting any money from this, and my audience is not big enough for likes, shares or virtual fame to matter. So I guess it’s alright. I’m sorry if this article offends you. I don’t mean to tarnish your legit mourning nor diminish it. I’m barely questioning things. I deeply believe in the freedom of speech, but I also believe in respecting people’s feelings, especially in the face of tragedy.

I didn’t know Leila. I had seen some of the photos she took, but never really cared who the artist behind was. Photography is not really my passion and, as a general rule, I never pay much attention to the artist, as I believe art, once it sprouts out from thought to form, is a property of the world. Through the diverse individual interpretations brought upon it by each and everyone’s unique persona, and the fact that appreciation is a matter of chance also, among other things. There is usually one or two great songs in an album, the rest fills, in a somewhat acceptable fashion, the remaining acceptable void. Should we not give in to the kitsch deification, in our own longing for greater beings, an artist cannot be a lifelong genius, in every single piece.

Enough with the digression.

So I didn’t know Leila. And yet, when I saw her picture and she was announced dead, I was nearly brought to tears. I was affected when DABATEATR’s 9lil w Mdawem lighted candles in her memory and commemorated her. I was appalled by the atrocity of the deed, albeit the relatively small number of casualties. I planned but couldn’t go to the wake that was organized for her. I can only remember feeling remotely this way, in terms of intensity, when they announced the death of the three young Muslims in the USA last year, though it didn’t impact me as much.

I have a good/bad –I’ll leave that to you- habit of analyzing the roots of my thoughts and feelings. I noticed my apathy towards deaths that occurred the next day, significantly more deadly and heinous. Abject, bloody massacres, as you know, are a part of our daily lives nowadays, which seldom bother us anymore, should it take place outside our boundaries. In multiple parts of the world, the number of casualties are genocidal, but it doesn’t seem to put any unrest in our hearts and those of the so called human rights champions, the leaders of the free world. These are the ones that should be held responsible, for that is their deed, through their colonial visions, their blood-sucking trade practices, and the immoral worldwide arms dealerships they run.

So I have a theory, as for why I, and many other people, were so overwhelmed with Leila’s passing away: image, in quantity, through media; hierarchy and closeness.

They say an image is worth a thousand words. Now imagine the worth, the impact of a thousand images and a million words, in a myriad of languages. At these heights, realities are made, truths are manufactured, consciousnesses are altered… Leila’s death was widely covered, it was in the headlines of major newspapers and news websites, all over the world, for a fairly long time. This was the case too for the three American Muslims who died in the Chapel Hill shooting. What do these four have in common? They were white, they were young, and they were beautiful, through classic standards. These aesthetic features, I believe, were a key reason as for why the world mourned them so much, so long, for so much time. Humans cherish beauty and youth, nearly to the point of slavery, in spite of their best intentions not to surrender to that innate urge, and that extends to the impact of other’s death on us.

The media frenzy, with all the likes and the sharing, finds its roots also in a peculiar aspect of humankind: the thymos, or the need for recognition. It has become a pattern: whenever a famous person died, somewhat related to the artistic scene, people mourned them, liked and shared articles to show they knew the late artist, while a big portion of them only learned of their existence by their obituary. Culture, elitist as it is, is pursued for show purposes. In Facebook and Twitter, our new “ego-meters”, people don’t hesitate to scavenge on the dead artists to steal some of the aura and be counted in the circle of the happy few. Copy-paste the name, prefix the R.I.P, and hallelujah…

Media injustice is a very close topic to my heart. One of the biggest bigotries of the world we live in, is reducing the dead to numbers, for convenience, in the news. Scores of people remain nameless, unknown to the public, after their death. Their passing away is rendered pointless, unimportant, boring… Sure, Leila was able, through her personality and deeds, to harness the sympathy and love of all those who knew her, but she also knew the ‘’right people’’. She was a friend to the journalists, and she belonged to the ‘‘upper class’’, as did the French who died in the Paris attacks, whose echo we’re still hearing now. To those who didn’t know her, besides the aesthetic aspect, empathy and sorrow were communicated, through media and the words of important people, who nearly ‘’instructed’’ them to feel that way, by merely pronouncing themselves on that particular casualty and not others.  Hierarchy strikes again.

What does media frenzy bring to the dead? Nothing. What it brings to the living, is the real issue. How does a Syrian, a Palestinian, an Afro-American, a Burkinabe feel when his son’s or his mother’s death doesn’t even make it to the news, while they were the dearest to their hearts. Are we so deeply indoctrinated that we actually do believe our lives matter less than those of the wealthy, of the white, of the famous, of the European or the American. I read somewhere that American war drones reported the civilian casualties in Afghanistan through approximation, with sometimes high degrees of uncertainty. I’ll let you reflect on that.

Besides the media, our so called equality is a myth, in the reality of our intimacies. It cannot, by design, pretend to be more, though it has to be total, in the eyes of the law and the media. It is not human to be fair, to the very core of our inner self, in the face of death. Who died will always matter. How close were they? Could it have been us or someone we know? Here comes the closeness factor. I felt for Leila, because like me, she was Moroccan, young, belonged to the ‘‘media’’ world and, because of my line of work, I could have easily been in that restaurant, on a given day. We, in Morocco, singled out Leila among the other dead in the mass shooting, and barely mentioned them. Because she was one of us, she mattered more, though they all succumbed to the same bullets. We chose her and neglected the others.

This established hierarchy, where we only care when it hits close or in a certain caste, is a key factor in the laxity of the world leaders, driven by their electorate’s consent, to tackle the worldwide violence issue. Apathy, my friends, is not the answer. Action is. Vote not for he who preaches air strikes and bombs, but for he who builds schools and teaches empathy. Listen not to the raw call of supremacy, but to the faint whisper of peace.