Don’t we applaud throughout a concert at the finish of each song? I’ve seen an honored child in a moment of joy applaud when a birthday cake with candles lit is carried into a room full of the child’s happy friends. I’ve heard applause from passengers when, after a bouncing and wavering flight, the plane touched down on the runway. Applause has its place.
To my mind, applause at the capture of a terrorist bomber reduces the end of the chase to a final scene at the end of some movie. Sure, it’s natural to feel relief at the end of a torturous twenty-four hours in which the entire Boston area was shut down as the nation followed the hunt on TV. But, gratitude would have been nice.
Gratitude to the law enforcement people for seeking out and apprehending a dangerous individual with a long and heartfelt, vocalized “thank you” would have been nice. Hugging one another and supporting survivors would have been nice. Applause is OK, I suppose but pretty generic.
Every movement of the search was on TV. The media people were falling over themselves not only to chronicle the story but to “make news.” So, why not applaud?
I’m afraid we’ve developed several generations of people who can’t tell ther difference between reality and virtual things. TV is virtual reality. Facebook is virtual reality. Boston, however, is a real city and the terrorism that took place in that city during the last few days remains real.
Do you know what reality is? Here are some real things: The birth of your daughter. Death is real and final. Prison is a village of caged humans. Friends meet one another simply because they enjoy being with one another. Lovers can’t stand being apart from each other. A croccus finding its way through wet, cold soil to bloom faster than you believe it should, is real.
Pictures and videos that represent these things are virtual, and they are wonderful, too, but they are not what they represent.
The first time I saw this blending of reality and faux reality was when I stood across the street from an enormous victorian mansion which was burning fiercely. It was one of those old abandoned buildings that once were part of the elegance which first attracted people to the site of a fledgling university.
Firefighters were getting as close as they could but the entire building was hot. Suddenly and simultaneously the banks of windows on the three story building exploded and red and yellow flames shot out from all directions. The noise from those explosions was stunning. The crowd of college students shouted as if they were at a football game: “Yeah!” And, then, the pleasure they were feeling at the spectacle erupted in wild applause. It was a great show.
I was their age, too, but my first thought was: Are fire fighters in that furnace? Are there vagrants who might be killed in that house? My fellow students thought it was a good show, just like they’d seen on TV.
If we lose track of reality we go off into illusion. We sit in front of our TVs gaping at the reality shows which aren’t real at all, just a fantasy. We use our iphones to simulate reality and are somehow in the presence of our friends when we text. On TV and facebook we are all for sale.
Reality is what is present when we remove the battery from our iphones and turn off the TVs.