Show me a tragedy and I will… make fun of it?

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“Show me a hero and I will write you a tragedy”– F Scott Fitzgerald

National tragedy is, on principle, supposed to be met with resilience. Times of catastrophe are often the only path to small windows of widespread unity.

The sincerity of any person can obviously never be judged. But when death, injury, or other such calamities strike, an assumption of good faith is made. It is of course unfortunate that instances of this unanimity and bipartisanship come shrouded with tragedy. Moreover it is unfortunate that these moments too are fleeting and soon enough break down into the usual mess of bickering politicians playing the blame game and people with microphones pointing fingers and adding fuel to the fire.

The only thing that comes out of such tragedy is the general feeling that at least everyone tried. Nothing coming off the passing instance of communal grievance and support is nothing new. All any humans anywhere can say about their reaction to tragedy is that despite everything they had a general feeling of humanity that caused them to be horrified and down-hearted by any such given events.

The spilling and subsequent explosion of the oil tanker in Bahawalpur that took with it some 150 lives was such a moment of national tragedy. The situation that caused the explosion was less than ideal. The spill would have been harmless enough if people from nearby settlements had not decided to swoop in to scoop up the spilled oil. Whether it was an unfortunate lighting of a cigarette or some other form of negligence, there was evidence to feel less bad about the people that lost their lives.

Despite the role of the victims in their own demise however, the images of bodies burnt to crisp and wrapped in plastic and charred humans in the hospital struggling for life were enough to give rise to feelings of grief. Even the hearts of those criticising the brash negligence of the victims softened at the sights of carnage that wrecked so much pain and suffering on people and families only a day before Eid.

What is truly astounding then is when people not only lack a feeling of empathy, but even go on to ridicule and make fun of such events. And while once again one can never be sure of what another person holds in their hearts, the automatic assumption made from this attitude is of crass disregard and inhumane sadism. Even if it were to be argued that humour is a method of healing for some, the attitude that has been displayed in recent times is nothing short of utterly disrespectful and in poor taste.

Less than an hour after the incident in Bahawalpur took place and the images of the havoc that rocked the entire nation surface, the first memes on the event reared their ugly head. The images were used as nothing more than bate to lampoon the people that had met their creator with the exploding of the tanker. An absolute disregard for any respect for the dead, and total shamelessness coupled with a desire for approval from fellows of their own like through the virtual ‘like’ button meant resulted in these ‘memes’

Facebook pages in recent times such as ‘Edgy Desishitposting,’ ‘Spicy Urdu memes,’ and ‘private’ groups with 9,000+ membership such as ‘Dankpuna’ have all been propagators of the derision of tragedy. This derision is nothing new of course, it has been going on in countries other than Pakistan. 9/11 jokes, although vehemently protested against, are a separate genre of memes and meme lingo. But the more local flavour that has been created has been by these new arrivals on the local social media scene.

This is nothing new either. The reaction to Junaid Jamshed’s death was the same sort of ridicule. Even more disturbingly, one sub-genre on the Dankpuna group was memes based on those that died in the APS massacre in 2014.

The very images that made so many individuals feel grief and sorrow were a method to make fun off and score digital points with complete strangers. This is nothing short of an outright disconnect and lack of basic human emotions.

There are many things unclear about internet culture and even more about online sub-cultures. It is impossible to go into the heart of every individual and see what their intents and purposes are behind doing something. What is clear however is that a general trend of such behaviour is totally unacceptable. After all, if this is how we respond to tragedy, and if this is the underlying national conscience, then this may just be the plummet to rock bottom.

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