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Is wallowing in 'sympathy' inducing nationwide, compulsory, PTSD?

  • September 12th, 2009

 As a guest on RNZ’s Afternoons programme yesterday I may have put Jim Mora in an awkward position as I criticised a National programme morning item. I was spurred by Nine to Noon’s first item yesterday to ‘soapbox’ on a matter on which I’ve been brooding for some time.

We New Zealanders are now not just excusing (and uselessly counselling) post traumatic stress disorder. We’re inciting and rewarding it.

Katherine Ryan interviewed Jason Hall about "the whole traumatic experience of living next door to the House of Horrors in Wainoni Rd" Christchurch where the bodies of two women were discovered. While that interview might be a classic of the genre it’s wallowing is certainly not confined to Katherine Ryan.

Yesterday’s effort was just the spur to let loose. I fear that a nationwide media consensus is rapidly losing us our cultural inheritance of stoicism and resilience. 

My generation opened the tear valves with  permission to "let it out’ instead of ‘bottling it up’. Some time ago that crystallised into an expectation of extravagant declarations of grief. That in turn is morphing into suspicion if a victim lacks signs of apparent struggle with overwhelming shock. I fear it is about to become a cultural necessity to  caterwaul, with ancillary political and official demonstrations of whole-of-community envelopment in "sharing the loss".

For the media the trend has been irresistible, starting as permission to exploit sad events with syrupy sympathy. Performing journalists quickly coped with the necessity to pretend a maudlin sharing of grief . Now it may be out of control, with subtle hostility to people who decline to demean themselves, or to pretend despair they do not feel, .

We are increasingly a nation of cry-babies. And most of the crying is probably authentic. Because research suggests we have powerful feedback loops to ensure that we feel genuine. What may begin as mere conformity with percieved norms becomes our reality.

So, for example, there seems to be evidence that people who are expected to be stoic, and are surrounded by others who act in that way, may even feel pain less, and be less disabled by it. And vice versa.

It seemed to me that  Katherine Ryan wound Mr Hall up. This may be unfair, because Rahui Katene, the Maori Party MP may have done all the winding up that Mr Hall needed. Nevertheless Ms Ryan’s lovely warm and most caring voice created an expectation he naturally filled, appearing to plead for guidance and financial help and sympathy from the state for his awful victim’s fate.

It consisted in being the next door neighbour of the murder house. Mercifully we got snatches of the sound of kids playing cheerfully in the midst of Katherine’s extraction of the tale of the Hall family’s devastation.

Whoever’s to blame I’ve had enough of this moaning. Where will it end when the Police are being urged to pander with "resources" to this kind of self pity and superstition. The Mayor of Christchurch too is in on the act.

With such encouragement I do not blame Mr Hall. I’m sure he was just responding as people generally do, to cues they get from "authority figures’ as to how they are expected to behave, and thus to feel. Our welfare system boosts it, with advertising and substantial effort to make sure people "get what they are entitled to" even if left alone they’d retain the dignity of sorting things out themselves.

We’re in a self reinforcing cycle of degradation, with the media ‘reporting’ [expecting] woe and despair and helplessness. People will oblige. Who wants to seem an oddball, looking callous or emotionless? It worked very badly for Azaria Chamberlain’s mother. 

O for the dignity of the stiff upper lip. 

And leave the murder house alone. Lets recapture our secular tradition with an official rejection of the animist superstition that would treat it as haunted or soiled beyond use.

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Stephen, “Rawene Katene, the Green MP” – do you mean Rahui Katene, the Maori Party MP?
Thanks Tim – she campaigned here in Wellington too where we were at a number of meetings together, so there is no excuse for that brain short.

  • peterquixote
  • September 14th, 2009
  • 4:35 pm

another good post Stephen

  • barry
  • September 17th, 2009
  • 9:19 am

someone called it “Grief-porn” – wich I thought was an excellent name. Not sure if its a real word but it sounds just right for the uncontrolled blubering we regularly see.

[…] it. Katherine Ryan interviewed Jason Hall about ” the whole traumatic experience of li click for more var _wh = ((document.location.protocol==’https:’) ? “” : […]

  • joshua araipu
  • September 18th, 2009
  • 11:43 am

hi slanderous cowards im jason halls son we have an open invitation for anyone who like come spend a night in the house of horrors then you would understand how my family realy feels sincerly a pissed off resident

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