I’m stood in the middle of a rubble-strewn street in Los Angeles, watching emergency service workers and distraught members of the public dragging battered bodies from the wreck of what was, less than an hour ago, a primary school. Everyone I can see is crying. Everyone but me.
My name is Sally Bowles. I am a journalist.
I know what you think. Well, I can guess. Something like you callous heartless bitch, I expect. How can you not be moved to tears by this tragedy?
I don’t know, to be honest. But there seems to be some limit to the human capacity for the physical expression of grief and sorrow. During my training, and the early years of doing this job, I cried all the time. But it’s as if my tear ducts have lost the capacity to do so – which is ironic, considering they were surgically altered so I never have to blink. Perhaps that’s the cause.
But I still feel the grief, you know. Of course you know – if I didn’t feel something about what I was seeing, the output of my sensorium wouldn’t be broadcast for all comers to plug into from any terminal on the planet or beyond. It’s my ability to feel grief and not act on it that makes me a viable on-the-spot stringer. It’s why you watch through my eyes and brain, even as you despise me for letting you do so.
I struggled with the ethics of it, at first. I still do. I can’t work out who’s being exploited. The victims of natural disasters, bungled terrorist actions and corporate-sponsored civil wars? You, the viewer, sat safe at home sucking down the sights, the stench, and the horrible emptiness in my stomach, vicariously experiencing the worst horrors the world has to offer just so you can feel more satisfied with the life you consistently fail to use to the fullest? Or me, a bleeding-heart liberal trapped in a heartless industry by her bleeding-heart liberalism, loathing what I have to do, loathing myself for loathing it but not quitting? Maybe all of us. Maybe none. I just don’t know.
Speculation isn’t in the job description. Nor is getting involved; I’m only here to allow you to be here by proxy. If you want to get involved – to feel as if you can do something, no matter how fruitless – there are other channels whose cameras are chosen for their inability to stand back and watch. And then there are those other channels – the gloater channels, the fundamentalist channels, the corporatist channels. You can feel any way you want about the news, without having to think for yourself or lift a finger.
I often wonder how well it works, how much detail you get. How accurate are the emotions you receive from me? Do you catch this, my inner dialogue? Do you hear me wrestle with my conscience, feel me searching for some sort of justification for what I do? If you do, do you care? Do you feel the same, independently of me? Do I open your eyes to questions, even as I open mine to the raw experience of disaster and pain?
I don’t know. It feels like I know less every day, and the knowledge is replaced with this void, this aching absence of anything except the gut-punch of horror at the cruelties the world acts out on us – and that we act out on each other.
My communication terminal is vibrating, and over the wailing of sirens and mothers of dead children I can hear the VTOL flying in to pick me up. There’s been a massive mudslide in rural Guatemala, and you’ll all be wanting to see it.
[Yeah, so I liked the idea of the journalist who is her own camera, but I really struggled to find a way to make it a story about a character rather than a technology. Hence the rather angsty soliloquy above; after two days of fiddling with it, I can’t be objective any more. Honest criticism encouraged – I know this story doesn’t work, but I can’t see why.]