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London's Whale

Mal Fletcher
Posted 23 January 2006
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Over the past few days, the world has watched with interest the attempted rescue of a whale accidentally caught up in the Thames River close to central London.

In China, an estimated one billion people watched state-controlled TV, which apparently gave extensive coverage to the whale and its sad predicament.

Throughout Europe, the story was covered by many of the major media outlets, as it was throughout the USA.

According to a spokeswoman for the RSPCA in Britain, this animal, which would normally be found swimming in the North Atlantic, was probably close to death long before rescuers attempted to hoist it onto a barge for delivery to deeper water.

It was, she said, probably so stressed and disoriented by the whole episode that there was little anyone could do to save it in the end. Yet, for all that, we didn’t stop trying. In the end, grown men aboard the rescue vessels were crying as they saw the stricken animal in its final convulsions.

The story shows us that, despite the odds against a successful rescue, people are prepared to go to extraordinary lengths to save a stricken animal in distress.

This is always heartening in an age when people can seem so preoccupied with their own realities that they have little or no time or energy left to invest in something bigger than themselves.

It also throws into sharp relief, I think, just how little good news comes to us via the media these days. It has often been remarked that bad news sells better than good news. It seems to have become a media truism that negativity makes for better television than positive news.

In the age of the 24/7 new cycle, where fiercely competitive media companies slug it out to win a limited number of viewers, bad news is very big business.

Wouldn’t it be refreshing to watch the TV news knowing that you were going to hear some sort of meaningful, positive story at some time before the weather forecast? That's where good-news stories, if there are any, are usually given space, albeit very brief.

In the TV news, good-news stories are a footnote to the real event – which is almost always negative. Wouldn't it be refreshing to see a reality TV program which focuses on people actually getting along together? A version of Big Brother where people actually build something together; where the interest is more in people fulfilling a project together than simply pulling each other down?

So much real-life media content – as opposed to drama, comedy and so on -- is either depressingly negative or, in the rare glimpses we're given of positive news, simply banal and innocuous.

This could be, of course, because we actually prefer hearing bad news to good -- at least when the bad news relates to other people.

Whilst we find bad news depressing in our personal lives, perhaps knowing that even worse things are happening to other people is comforting in a perverse way.

A friend of mine, pastor Brian Houston of the Hillsong church in Sydney, commented recently that, 'We [Australians] are often so aware of the six percent unemployed in [our country], that we fail to celebrate the 94 percent who are still in work.'

Negative thinking has a way of doing that - it makes us focus almost myopically on the sensational, the dark, the sad, rather than taking a moment to be thankful for the good and righteous things around us.

Through the lens of the media, goodness looks much less interesting than evil and injustice. In real life, righteousness is attractive and we are drawn to noble people. In our use of media, we are often drawn more to the dark side, which seems more glamorous or at least more titillating to our senses.

If nothing else, the whale story reminds us that being hopeful and looking for a positive result will always produce a proactive response -- and bring out the best in us.

Whereas, being negative only ever produces fatalism, apathy and futility.

Perhaps we should apply to our treatment of one another the same empathic, sympathetic and the hopeful attitude we showed toward this stricken animal. Perhaps we should develop the same proactive hope in our thoughts about ourselves, too. It’s only when we truly love ourselves that we can love our neighbour.

Perhaps we should demand that our media give us at least a little more of the good news which is happening around us.

Perhaps if we do all this, our whale friend will not have died in vain.

What’s your view?

Would you like to see more good news on your TV?



Keywords: whale | London | whale story | North Atlantic | Thames | central London | social comment | Mal Fletcher | Brian Houston | Hillsong | Hillsong church |

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