Thursday, 6 October 2016


If a bystander saw a young girl on a fairground carousel who was evidently considering leaping off during its languorous rotations, he might try to prevent her from doing so, but if that girl was a grown woman that same bystander might think she was crazy, high on drugs or alcohol or just plain crazy, and look away, uncaring whether she went ahead or waited like the other patrons for the ride to come to a natural halt to alight more gracefully. Or, whichever he'd taken her for – girl or woman - he might bear witness static and silently, recording the split-second decision on his phone for his own voyeuristic pleasure, only realising the perilous conditions belatedly which would be too late had the girl-woman leapt as it was no longer happening in real-time. And so his reactions too would be second-hand for in the first instance he hadn't had any.
None whatsoever. And whether he then does on a second viewing, removed as he is now from the scene, is purely conjectural for perhaps he's as calm as he was then or perhaps the crude cinematic effect thrills, rather than chills, him and so he uploads it on social media. A bold move that claims he was there with the footage to prove it. There as a witness, a spectator, involved, but can he claim to be that? For he wasn't, not really, not with every fibre of his being for his emotions went untouched; the incident studied after like a museum exhibit or confiscated propaganda that his brain at the time failed to register, which even in the aftermath continues to deny him access to its own unedited material, for the uploaded phone version, devoid as it is of his own moral or empathic engagement, is now his truth.
This variant goes viral. The global community watches, re-watches and posts comments about the footage itself as well as the eyewitness that took it, and this, in a matter of hours, becomes a stream of conversation, its many threads stretching out to calculable others in unpronounceable continents and even farther-flung countries. And yet on the surface, it flows ever downwards with profile pictures which underneath or next to it might have one word exclamation, exclamation, or a fuller remark in reference to the footage or in reply to a previous post.
It's a virtual world with sci-fi qualities where everything is unimpeachably shared, and shared, and shared, a bit like a sleeper that transverses long distances and stops at few stations in order to carry gossip from the cities to the less populated towns and remoter villages, and which only runs out of steam when everything that could possibly be said has been said and the furtherest corners have been reached. Then it slows, terminates at the last station or leisurely chugs back to its starting point and entertains those that missed it the first time.
Amidst this opining, the bystander would have been lauded and criticised; been interviewed sympathetically and challenged; been held responsible for his actions – his lack of intervention and his instinctive reflex to stand and record which some take issue with and others ignore because they can't be sure that if they were in that situation they wouldn't do the same: reach for the phone like a cowboy in a modern Western, which they argue does less harm than pulling the trigger on a gun, although others proclaim such images mentally stain those who were there and those who were not; and as this debate wages the capturer usually vanishes.
Quite simply, the furore dies and the matter is forgot. The argument does not conclude or come to an overall consensus. The incident, which could have gone largely unseen, has touched lives unasked because in this rising tide of global culture there is no self-censorship.
The upshot being that a bystander's reactions are not often determined by the will of the individual but by the carousel already in motion.

Picture credit:
Fairground Carousel, St Giles Fair, Oxford, 1895, Henry Taunt