Remembering Gaddafi: A Netizen’s Novena

On All Souls Day Filipino’s flock to cemeteries all over the country to commemorate their faithfully departed, the good people they have loved, lost and long to see again. But the death of slain leader Muammar Gaddafi last October 20 makes me wonder: How are the “evil” souls remembered?

Gaddafi’s case is beyond the tombstone inscriptions. His epitaph is a flurry of grotesque images flashed on screen. Despite paying their own respects, now more than ever does the media go beyond just whispering prayers for the dead, deceased dictators or otherwise.

Out of all the 42 years worth of human rights and geo-political implications of Gaddafi’s life and death,  I can’t help but focus on his gory last moments of life captured on a solider’s phone camera and shown for all the world to see. As a human being I am scarred. But as a communications major, aspiring broadcaster/journalist and internet addict, I am perturbed that it was leaked, published and shared in the first place.

Curiosity, it seems, can kill media ethics while the internet serves the often disturbing remains online. People demand proof and if news agencies don’t give it to them then netizens and social media savants will get the scoop instead. Not even Secretary of State Hillary Clinton believed Gaddafi’s capture until she saw it with her own eyes on her Blackberry.

I remember the same flack of discernment was given to the coverage of the Rizal Park bus hostage situation. Even when Michael Jackson died or Anna Nicole Smith overdosed on drugs I remember those televised images appearing like ghosts of the persons they once were, haunting us even after the dead has been laid to rest. Who’s to blame for setting the standards of decency?

Using simple economics we can explain that agencies used to have a monopoly of the information market until social media started deteriorating the barriers of entry. They have to compete with netizens for the scoop resulting in the increasing inability to dictate the world price which for media translates into standards. Lets not forget news for circulations sake too. Can well respected news agencies such as CNN package and pass disturbing images as “bearable” and “classy”?

But it’s our fault as well.

Aside from wanting graphic (in all senses) proof, we are a culture of sharing. Indeed evidence is necessary but most likely it isn’t tasteful. When Osama Bin Laden died with no visual proof, skeptics revealed the appetite the public has for publishing such carnage. Even a fake photograph of Osama’s corpse circulated as a pseudo-appetizer, feeding the hunger but not completely. But unlike Osama’s last moments, Gaddafi’s was captured by a phone camera. The disclosure wasn’t made by the White House but by the netizens, us, who shared.

Today we celebrate All Souls Day. While Gaddafi’s corpse is finally put to rest in a secret location to prevent shrines and desecration, those images become his tombstone instead. Nowadays, it’s how netizens give their novena, for the “evil” souls and otherwise.


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