Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Inhumane Treatment

The past week has provided two new vivid examples of the cruelty of America's modern soap opera culture. Last week, the son of a former Vice-President was arrested on drug charges. One can assume that the Vice-President and his family have the normal familial affections for the young man that other families do. However, they dealt with that personal disappointment and tragedy in the environment of a torrent of taunting and ridicule. It is difficult enough for a family to deal privately with the pain of a loved one who has been arrested and who would appear to have some sort of addiction. How much more difficult is that to work through in the midst of curiosity seekers and mockers.

This week, a United States Senator has been found to have visited a prostitute. The Senator says that he confessed these sins to his wife some years ago. Now, the wife and the rest of the family endure the reopening of those wounds while an entire nation watches and knows. Reconciliation after such violations of trust is a difficult task -- some would consider it personally impossible. How much worse it would be to try to recover from such a betrayal of trust while in the eye of the entire nation.

We regularly treat public figures as cartoon figures, and fail to grasp or care about their humanity or their emotions. Sure there is wrongdoing in both of these instances, but steep prices would have been paid even without all of the public's piling on. What is worse is that many seem to take joy in the spectacle, especially if the individual involved is of a different political persuasion.

Sometimes drawing lines is difficult. Those who choose to be public figures inevitably find parts of their lives being public that weren't planned on. Character also matters in public life, and so, to some degree, private matters deserve to be part of the public discussion. But what is to be said for the character of a society that gazes upon the personal destruction of fellow human beings and takes pleasure in the view?

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