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SATURDAY, SEPTEMBER 22, 2007
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Rev. Mitchell Williams

Keep your voyeur eyes to yourself

“This next story is tragic,” said the morning TV program host, modulating her voice from the previous happy news item. Was this a warning to prepare my heart or was it a bell to get my attention?

Was I being asked to heed something critical — a news release about a potential danger — or were we all slowing down to get a long look at a traffic accident?

A woman had inadvertently left her young child strapped in a car seat in the hot sun. She normally dropped off the child at a day care, but that morning she rushed to get something else done. She just forgot. And now her child was dead.

Name me something worse, I dare you.

OK, so far, it was a sad warning for parents and child care givers to be diligent (and a call to prayer for that family). But the “coverage” continued. The police, of course, had questioned the woman. “And we have the videotape of that interrogation.”

Surely not. But the program showed the distraught mother, barely able to raise her head. And in case you couldn’t understand her strained voice, the show printed her words on the screen.

By that time, I had found the remote. That is just none of my business.

The growing “None of My Business” list includes senators’ bathroom behavior, wealthy women’s dating habits, poor performances of recovering rock queens, the weight of TV stars and, well, the weight of anyone.

This week, I added Vanessa Hudgeons to the list. The star of Disney’s “High School Musical” gave her boyfriend a nude photo that was uploaded to the Internet. (Hey, girls, duh No. 1: boyfriends don’t need you titillating them, and duh No. 2: these are never kept private. Whether you are famous or not, the photo will go online for parents and bosses to see.)

Remember when folks would look the other way out of respect for someone’s privacy? I recall when a girl dropped her lunch tray in elementary school, and the cafeteria applauded. She was mortified. My friends and I were far off but still looked away and tried to divert our table’s attention.

The applause was an example of what German’s call schadenfrende — the delight felt when bad things happen to someone else. Better thee than me.

Is that what makes everyone’s personal business newsworthy? Or has our culture, me included, been infected with a mean voyeur pathogen?

Negative, scornful, almost snide publicity is a media addiction. They seem unable to quit. We’ll have to change from our side of the screen. So let’s help each other resist, reject, respect and avert our eyes.

The Rev. Mitchell Williams, pastor of Central United Methodist Church, is a guest religion columnist for The Daily. For more information, call Melanie Smith at 340-2468.

Rev. Mitchell Williams Rev. Mitchell Williams

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