Pass the potatoes over the violence
Some years ago, for no reason that I can clearly remember, there was a spate of “drive-by” shootings. What started as horrific and shocking headline news, soon retreated into the latter pages of the daily newspapers.
It was during this time that I recall reading a Madam & Eve cartoon in The Star newspaper. If memory serves me, it went something like this: Madam and Eve are having dinner, when there’s a burst of gunfire. Windows shatter, the table is upended, and they find themselves taking cover to save their lives. It’s during this fracas that Eve turns to Madam and says, “Do you think we’re becoming desensitised to this?” Madam, looks at her and in response says, “I don’t think so Eve. Please pass the potatoes.”
That is what I felt when I heard of the hostage situation at the synagogue in Texas during Shabbat last week. I wanted to be shocked and for it to have an emotional impact. And yet, if I was eating carbs, I could easily have asked for the potatoes.
The lack of outrage was reflected across many media outlets. Business Insider lead with the headline “The Texas synagogue hostage-taker was on the phone to his kids when he was shot dead, his brother says.” In spite of the qualification that this was according to his brother, the headline shows a clear attempt to humanise the “hostage taker” and illustrate that he’s a father, whose dying act was in the service of parenthood.
It doesn’t focus on the victims, who spent 10 hours not sure if they would survive, and doesn’t give credit to the fact that the act was in fact focused on the release of his sister, a vehement outspoken antisemite who is serving a life sentence for terrorism. Rather, the picture created is that of a family man, cut down while chatting to his children.
Is it little wonder we prefer potatoes!
Columnist Bari Weis explains it brilliantly. Her theory is that in order for there to be an appropriate public reaction, both the perpetrator and the victims need to be acceptable. White, right-wing Nazis make the “perfect” terrorists, whilst non-religious, non-Hassidic, secular Jews make the perfect victims. If either one of those aren’t present, then there will be an attempt to play down the incident. Which is why the “hostage-taker” was referred to as a Brit, a father, a brother, anyone but an Islamist.
She puts it this way. “It’s not difficult to gin up outrage these days, yet you won’t find celebrities or sports stars or influencers making #colleyville or #antisemitism go viral. Meanwhile, the members of our so-called intelligentsia are claiming the real victims aren’t those innocent Jews held hostage, but Muslims who could face Islamophobia-inspired violence.”
It’s worth monitoring our own reaction. Because we too fall prey to what we read and how incidents are reported. If we’re not vigilant, we’ll soon find ourselves in a cartoon, under fire asking for the potatoes.