Brianna Heldt is a writer, speaker, and radio show host. She blogs at www.briannaheldt.com, has been a featured guest on BBC Radio, and her work can regularly be found in other online publications as well. A convert to the Catholic Church, Brianna explores topics ranging from faith and social issues to adoption and large family life. She and her husband make their home in Denver, along with their eight children.
If we learned anything this past election cycle (really, we probably learned many things — or, rather, merely had them confirmed), it was that the mainstream media tells the story it wants to tell. There is a clear bias and agenda when it comes to what news is reported and also how it is presented.
Which brings me to this developing story out of Chicago. A man with special needs was abused and tortured by four people (one of whom is said to be a classmate of the victim). in an apartment where he was being held against his will. The attack was streamed via Facebook Live. You can watch the actual footage online, though I admit I simply could not bring myself to do it.
All four suspects are presently in custody. The victim is recovering from his injuries in the hospital. Charges will certainly be brought. And yet as terribly cruel and senseless as this act (which may also meet the qualifications of a hate crime) obviously is, the media is not saying too much about it. Why? Is it because the suspects are African American, the victim is white, and you can hear the perpetrators yelling negative things about Donald Trump and white people as they kick, hit, and cut him? Is it because this story doesn’t fit the media’s tidy narrative of Good People and Bad People, Victims and Oppressors? Is it because hate somehow doesn’t count when it’s manifested against men and women living with mental disabilities?
To me, the racial and political aspects of this story are, well, secondary in a sense. You can also allegedly hear the perpetrators saying they want their video to go viral — who really knows what motivated them to hold one of their peers hostage and beat and taunt him, for all of social media to see? Perhaps they do indeed dislike white people, and detest the new president-elect. I’ll take them at their word and assume they probably do, to some degree. But the shocking lack of empathy, deep-seated disdain for a helpless and vulnerable person, and sense of pride in putting it all on display? That is something that transcends race. It is exacerbated by the role that social media has come to play among young people in our culture. And, it speaks to the ever-coarsening societal view towards humanity, in general.
It is the same view that compels someone like Lena Dunham to glibly say she wishes she had had an abortion. It is what drives otherwise sane people to look upon a confused nine-year-old boy trotted out on the cover of National Geographic, dressed as a girl, and call it good. It is what ultimately paved the way for Kermit Gosnell to commit such horrors in his clinic year after year after year — why did nobody speak up?
It is, I fear, because we are collectively losing the ability to recognize the very essence of humanness in people. The frailty, the preciousness, the dignity — all of course flowing from being made in the image and likeness of God — is increasingly lost upon a generation raised on selfies and the anti-reality otherwise known as the smartphone, a misnomer if ever there was one. Compassion, courage, and charity are values fast becoming extinct, each one an endangered species threatened (among other things) by a disconnection from real, authentic relationship, and the painful fracturing of the traditional family. There is also, I think, a cultural move towards worship of the self, the ensuing pursuit of all things efficient and easy, and the avoidance of what is hard and, oftentimes, noble. If we don’t recognize our own God-given potential and purpose, how will we see it in others?
I am not sure what the large-scale answer is to news stories like this one. How can things change for the better when we can’t talk candidly about them, or call out evil when we see it? People need to know this is really, actually happening in our country. People need to see what is occurring among a population marked by jaded, angry, and shiftless youth, and how vulnerable members of our society are being treated as a result. And yet this story remains buried under headlines like “GOP Threatening Planned Parenthood” and “Joe Biden Tells Donald Trump to Grow Up”. Just like we can’t count on the mainstream media to tell the truth about the millions of vulnerable babies sacrificed annually on the altar of convenience, we can now also be sure they won’t say too much about the torture of this differently-abled man. He’s the wrong race, after all, and his assailants hate the wrong politician. And, he has special needs.
Closer to home, though, we mustn’t look away. We won’t pretend the frightened young man with the tape over his mouth and the cuts on his scalp isn’t hurting. Because our one and only agenda is to live as Christ. So we can pray, and we can have thoughtful conversations with our children about the dignity of the human person, about the highest of virtues, love, and about why people — ALL people — matter. Immensely. We can seek to extend greater friendship to one another, and find ways to better include those living in the margins. Finally, we can just say no to the narcissistic, nihilistic digital landscape that continues to claim teenaged victims in droves, and instead say yes to LIFE — to laughter, beauty, faith, and goodness.
Lord, have mercy on our culture.