Jul 24, 2014

Rundle: in MH17, the death of meaning from the meaninglessness of death

We in the West are no longer used to sudden or accidental death -- and we have no idea how to deal with it.

Guy Rundle — Correspondent-at-large

Guy Rundle


Dutch military personnel carry a coffin containing an unidentified body from the MH17 crash

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19 thoughts on “Rundle: in MH17, the death of meaning from the meaninglessness of death

  1. Jan Forrester

    Another thoughtful piece Guy. This is one of the reasons I subscribe. The other side of our historically remarkable safe lives is the remarkable resilience of people without ordered lives. Which doesn’t lessen grief or the impact on individuals, family, community of destruction and death.

  2. zut alors

    Excellent. It was an horrific tragedy but politicians & the media are in danger of turning the grim aftermath mawkish.

  3. Ron Edgar

    Could Peter Cosgrove’s sentiment, no doubt agreed by Tony Abbott, be extended to all of those who have perished trying to reach Australia by boat?

  4. Peter Watson

    [With dominant narratives unquestioned]
    Finally. A journalist fell off the spin and propaganda wagon and woke up in the real world.
    Narrative is the politicly correct word for propaganda.

  5. Dogs breakfast

    “In the process, reportage has become an all-but-unanimous descant about how strong the government is being and how proud we are of them on the world stage. This seems to be just about the worst traducing of the deceased yet. Julie Bishop has acquired a new, tougher image, so they did not die in vain.”

    This is possibly the worst of the unedifying spectacle of us all missing the point, or exploiting the deaths of others for commercial gain, or substituting actual real human emotions for real people for vague connections or competitions about who read it first, or cried first, or cried the most, or had the most horrific bad luck, or were connected to people who were connected to people who once passed their distant cousin in a shopping aisle.

    I just hate all the ersatz humanity, it only brings home to me how fake we all are, what a contrived and bullshit riddled society we now live in.


    I think what Peter Cosgrove was saying that no one new who was in the caskets (no one will know until DNA testing has taken place) and until we know we will treat all bodies returned to the Netherlands as Australians.
    I also believe that it is a sorry state of affairs that those countries that have experienced endless bloodshed have grown to accept such sudden deaths. I don’t think Australians are shocked at these sudden deaths as much as these people were not involved with anything on the ground, but someone on the ground decided that they would be involved. Let us hope that Australians will always feel shock when something like this happens.

  7. Catherine Scott

    There is no doubt whatsoever that the decline in death rates among younger cohorts has increased the novelty of the event and made it harder for people to know what to say and also to not say incredibly stupid things when it does happen. The disappearance of all the conventions that surrounded bereavement also make it harder for people to negotiate the event with any semblance of poise or dignity.

    But even Jane Austin knew that it was attention grabbing to die before one’s time. She noted that a young person who does something interesting, like die or get married, is invariably discovered to be possessed of sterling personal qualities.

    However, it’s a good thing to try to avoid getting sociological over things that have their origins in phenomena like the 24 hour news cycle. I was living in England when Princess Diana was killed and was made aware of it before most Brits because it happened day time in Australia and night time in the UK. A phone call to Australia alerted me and early in the morning I sat down to a day of people watching, seeing how the thing was picked up and amplified by the continuous news reports and how quickly people learned their lines and were soon spouting the same stuff back at reporters, about ‘the people’s princess’, how much they’d miss her, etc.

    Went to work the next day and the women were all huddled in the staff room sobbing into their hankies while the blokes sat looking bemused. I sat with the blokes.

    Voyeurism has a great deal to do with it all. People find it pleasantly horribly engrossing that something interesting – to use Jane Austin’s word – has happened to someone who fortunately isn’t them. Makes it hard to not want to get involved in it in some way, put flowers somewhere, once that has become a thing and been retailed around the place by the media. After all, people look to each other to know how to act and if that’s what’s all over the tellie, that’s what gets picked up, sobbing in the street over the Princess they never met and hadn’t previously given much thought to and putting flowers somewhere.

    The dark side is that it isn’t all just voyeurism in the sense of uninvolved bye-stander gawking. Hearing of others’ distress, when it’s something that one can relate to, can cause deep empathetic suffering. We in one sense surely suffer a great deal now because of the way we are invited to share the pain of a myriad of strangers. For that reason it would be nice if the MSM could resist boosting their circulation or ratings by plastering suffering all over the place. Not going to happen, however. Profit before preventing vicarious trauma.

  8. tonysee

    @ Ron Egar: I agree Ron. I was watching Gillian Trigg’s (HR Commissioner) damning assessment of the treatment of so-called ‘illegal arrivals’ on News 24 this morning.

    We had no say in the tragedy of MH17 but we are in control of our policies that keep people — including children — as prisoners in remote place (and on a damn ship in the middle of nowhere) for extended periods which have no demonstrable effect on ‘deterrence’.

    Talk about the ‘death of meaning’!


    Maybe because the “illegal arrivals” put themselves and their children in harms way whilst the tragic passengers on the flight shot down had no choice.

  10. Jan Forrester

    Whilst off the main thread of this conversation, we need to keep saying it is NOT illegal to seek asylum and have one’s claims for asylum expeditiously tested against the Convention – a Convention which this country has ratified.
    And that the UNHCR does NOT operate everywhere. And that an asylum seeker normally needs to go to another country to claim asylum from threats within their own country. And that we get so very, very, very, very few of the world’s asylum seekers coming here by boat – or plane. And that the latter method is how most asylum seekers arrive in Australia.
    These checkable facts have been quite clearly losing the ‘battle’ against a tide of political rhetoric over the years. This doesn’t change the checkable facts.

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