Friday, 19 December 2008

In which our blogger confesses himself bemused

One of the things about being a blog writer is the implicit assumption that you know what you’re talking about. Ideally, one likes to come over as something of a guru, a discerning and reliable guide to a confusing and perplexing world. I live in hope that, around coffee tables and water coolers the world over people are saying ‘You know the British and Americans are different; I’ve been reading some really excellent blogs on this by Chris Walley.’ What follows therefore is something of an embarrassing revelation and I hope you will forgive me.

The fact is I was in our local W H Smith (a big British newsagents/booksellers) the other day when I came across something that stopped me dead in my tracks and which frankly dear reader, I do not understand. It was an entire section simply labelled ‘Tragic Life Stories’. I should at this point have taken out my iPhone and taken a photograph for myself. However just to show you that it isn’t a delusion I have borrowed a photo from Flickr from someone else who was obviously as stunned as me.

Notice the exploitative titles such as Please Daddy No! and He Sold Me For A Few Cigarettes. Note too the extraordinary similarities of titling and imagery. Apparently this sort of thing is called ‘Grief Porn’ and it is quite obviously very big indeed.

Readers, I find myself doubly troubled. I think – no, I know – there is something very badly wrong here. But I am equally troubled because I don’t quite understand exactly what’s going on. Who reads this sort of thing? What is the motivation? Do readers enjoy feeling sympathy with the victims? Or – heaven forbid – do they take some deep (and possibly unacknowledged) vicarious pleasure in the acts that are perpetrated? Isn’t there enough real misery in the world that we need to read about it? (Perhaps that’s the point: we can close the book at the end and put it all behind us.) And isn’t there something grotesquely immoral about people making money out of misery? Oh and, incidentally, why are all the children white? Well if anyone has any clear answers or biblical insights I’d be interested in hearing them.

You may well say this is a miserable thought in the run-up to Christmas. In one sense it is; but isn’t this precisely the point about Christmas? That in the darkness of a very dark world, the Light shone? ‘The light shines in the darkness, but the darkness has not overcome it’ (John 1:5).

Wherever you are and in however deep a darkness, may you know Christ’s love at Christmas .