Every family has its share of sad stories, at least every family I know well enough to be aware of its history. People get sick and die. Some of them go into comas. My father did. We had to pull the plug. Human life is tragic and, you may have noticed, finite.
Yet in our society one particular family drama-Terri Schiavo’s-has been dragged into the public domain as almost none have before, dominating our airwaves to the exclusion of everything else and even bringing the US Congress into an emergency session lasting past midnight. In the process we have learned very little as people have screamed at each other, bragging (of all things) that they are more compassionate than others. The important issues involved have been obscured in a hailstorm of political posturing. And that is no surprise, because if there is anything that should be decided in calm reflection, it is the relationship between the private world of the family and the public world of the state (and/or the states). Here it is being made into a carnival show out of a Fellini movie, with none of the maestro’s forgiving humor.
I suppose this is all to be expected in our culture where the line between news media and entertainment is all but invisible. Nevertheless the inadvertent result of this national obsession is to direct our attention away from matters where our government should be more actively involved. One of those is Darfur where tens of thousands of people, many of them children, are dying by starvation and violence. Our ex-Secretary of State Colin Powell called it “genocide” yet we have done very little. This is more than one sad story.