WARNING: Spoiler Alert!
The season seven premiere of #The Walking Dead caused up a hysterical stir this week when – in a perhaps slightly expected, but still shocking twist – one of the main characters was killed off. #Glenn Rhee, played by Steven Yeun, was tragically beaten to death by Negan, the show’s new villain. For die-hard fans, Glenn’s death was too much to handle and twitter reacted accordingly.
— Mujerista 🇩🇴 🇨🇺 (@Miami_Chica) 24 October 2016
One user even posted this tweet before the airing of the new season:
People who do not watch the show may find this type of behaviour dramatic, comical and perhaps even, over-the-top.
However, it is understandable that a TV series with such a substantial cult following is able to induce such hysteria from its viewers (just look at The Great British Bake Off). As viewers, we want to become wrapped up in a fictional, alternate dimension because maybe, it allows us to forget about the bleak reality that currently defines the world. We’ve all done it and it is perfectly fine to want an escape, to be passionate about something, to feel motivated by something; as long as we remember that we have returned to reality after turning the television off. The problem with these types of reactions arise when real-life issues fail to attract the same attention. As a collective society, we seem to have selective sympathy in regards to what we feel warrants an active or emotive response.
We care more about Glenn being bludgeoned to death, than a child refugee sleeping rough in Calais
Selective sympathy is a real and dangerous problem because it means that we may avoid investing passion and attention in issues that could really use our help. Just imagine what a difference it could make if the type of social media reactions we see when a character like Glenn dies, was for one of the events below.
- 15th October 2016: The Guardian reports that the US has bombed Yemen – and ‘no-one is talking about it.'
- 25th October 2016: A terrorist attack claimed by the so-called Islamic State (IS) kills at least 59 people in Quetta, Pakistan.
- 27th October 2016: The story of 18-year-old Yemeni, Saida Ahmad Baghili, is published on some media outlets - Baghili is just one of millions of Yemenis who are suffering from malnourishment.
- 27th October 2016: NATO announces plans for East Europe troop deployment.
It is of course, possible to care about all of these things simultaneously however, the reality is that there seems to be an inconsistent parallel between the types of reactions they induce – especially on social media.
By now, it is clear that social media has in some way empowered us all. It has given us a voice – and along with it, a power – that we have never had before. Something as seemingly invisible as a single tweet or status can now become part of a wider, collective voice that, in turn, can have a real impact in how things play out in real-life.
It is certainly not my place to dictate what someone should care about or how they should react, but if you can have empathy for a fictional character then why not a real human being? The solution is not to avoid caring about your favourite TV series or empathising with its characters, but instead, using the same passion and voice that you have for personalities like Glenn to try and make a real difference in the lives’ of people like Saida.