Isn’t it ironic? How history bridges the chasm of sensitivity

This week’s post comes from Briony Eddy, who is in her third-year studying English Literature and History at the University of Gloucestershire.

 

“In light of the recent surge of global terrorism hitting every form of social media and news headlines, I have been inclined to wonder what will make the history books in years to come. How will our generation be depicted, and are we aware of the images we are creating for ourselves? Or does it not matter? Will the historians of the future talk about the day that Facebook turned red, white and blue? If so, will they also nonchalantly scroll over videos of Syrian children being dragged out the rubble as a result of French air raids? Will they discuss the disputes that were had over which terror attack was worse in a bid for one-up-manship? Or will these be omitted from the history books that will resonate with the phrase ‘liberté, égalité, fraternité’, and simply recall the day that England stood in union with France at a football match?

As global headlines reach our televisions, radios, mobile phones and all other forms of social media with increasing speed, journalists are having to produce increasingly more shocking headlines to capture their intended audiences on news articles which have already been heard, watched or ‘re-tweeted’. Although at the time of Princess Diana’s death numerous forms of the social media platforms that we use today did not exist, I would just like to compare two headlines from different decades of the 20th century in order to represent the growing insensitivity of our society.

This following front page was published by the News of the World on the day of Princess Diana’s death.diana

Half a century prior to this, The News Chronicle (now the Daily Mail) published a newspaper headline identical to this but featuring the name of Hitler – ‘HITLER DEAD’.

 

It does not take a historian to detail the differences between these two very different historical moments, or how these headlines would have affected society in two very different ways. However, what I find most worrying in these headlines, is the lack of sensitivity and humanity, particularly regarding the late Princess Diana. Is this a reflection of a society lacking in compassion, or is it a result of increasingly shocking journalism that is desensitizing our emotions? Herein lies the irony. It has been a habit of society to desensitize the past, whether it is through numerous forms of public history (i.e. museums and National Trust sites), in television documentaries and films or even in the realm of education. So much emphasis is put on remembering the past -‘lest we forget’ bhitlerthumbut for what purpose? Unarguably, occasions such as Remembrance Day serve the purpose of paying respects and remembering those who fought for us. However, surely the reason we are taught history is to learn from the past. Unfortunately, for Great Britain it would appear that the purpose of our history is to remember our strength as an imperial conqueror, an innovator in industry, a saviour in times of war and very rarely at fault. However, the news headlines often offer a different story, one of political and social scandal, one in which our economy is on the brink of recession, one in which the truth is rarely omitted but exaggerated. Therefore, at what point do the actions of today become desensitized in the history of tomorrow?

 

Perhaps, if history was more accurately reported and society did not have the cavalier attitude and reassurance that ‘Great Britain’ will ultimately be portrayed as a hero in the fight against ISIS, we might be able to drop our inhumane attitude towards those fleeing from the very war zones that we are creating. Just because the history books tell us that we rescued thousands of war victims during the persecution of the Nazi’s does not mean that we have done our part. If history is repeating itself, then surely we must repeat the actions that have been portrayed with the most positive results. Although it may be considered narcissistic, we must be conscious of what today’s newspapers say, and treat today’s shocking headlines as the titles of tomorrow’s history books that will document our generation. Perhaps then we may re-consider our actions.”

 

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