Andre Carrilho Ebola coverage

Why the ebola crisis is about characters and extras

So if you have been keeping up with the Ebola crisis, you may read high flying accusations of how western coverage is about “West vs rest”. And it’s totally true. We care more for the victims that are connected to us in the same way that we want to see a superhero movie in the viewpoint of the superhero as opposed to one of the nameless civilians that is killed. 

We sympathize with characters we can connect to.

In any movie with a epic montage, one of the great ways of doing so is showing snippets of peoples and slices of their life being affected by whatever the movie is about. As well, in most major historical nonfiction of a event, it usually is viewed through several viewpoints around said event. 

If a movie, or book was ever written about the Ebola crisis, you can bet your last dollar that Thomas Eric Duncan, the Liberian with his own wikipedia page, who achieved the dubious award of becoming the first Ebola case on American soil would be included. This narrative would also include the viewpoint of health workers such as  Craig Spencer, returning from Liberia also tested positive with Ebola in New York city.

Media covers these victims because they are closer to us, and we can relate and understand their situations. It’s more difficult to relate to victim #3059 from the Ebola virus. More Afro-centric media, especially news from West African countries, would cover news that their audience can relate to.

It’s impossible to sympathize with a statistic

One dies, Million cry; Million die, No one cries

If ever watched the end credits of a movie, you would notice how there would be the main characters, the minor characters and then extra 3rd from the left. Or the LOTR trilogy which of the hundreds of characters that Tolkien created, we probably would only remember the characters that were played by A-list actors.

in a real-life example, if you took all the memorials, museums, books, movies, media of the Holocaust, Anne Frank would take a huge share of museum and movies (1-sentence movie review time: the 2001 mini-series Anne Frank was the first movie that made me cry). Then there are other victims/survivors of the Holocaust who are remembered such as Elie Weisel or Mordechai Anielewicz, who had a book about them, a memorial, but the average schmuck on the street wouldn’t know their name. Then there are those hundreds of names, mentioned in books, had names etched in memorials Only a Holocaust scholar would know those names. And the other millions? The best we can do for them is round the figure to the closest million. We can still count the number of Ebola cases in the west with fingers. The Ebola crisis in Africa has inflicted nearly 5000 deaths. No one is going to weep for a statistic.

Being entertained means not weeping for the extras

2012 meme Happy Ending

In the movie 2012, billions of people were killed in scene after scene, all for the sake of making the escape of John Cusack and co. exciting. In videogames we can have hundreds of NPCs die in game, but when a important character dies we weep bloody biscuits.

News coverage knows we will only seek to read characters that we can relate to or how they would relate to our lives or both. During the 2010 Haitian Earthquake, the Toronto Star covered a series of articles about a Haitian girl named Lovely a lovely (lovely get it?… nvm) coverage that was more understandable than a accurate death toll. However in the end, it’s all about seeing the narrative she would still just be a character, like Craig Spencer or Thomas Eric Duncan that is our narrative of the Ebola crisis.