The global village now brings us death in living color

April 21, 1995|By Jerry Carroll

THE GLOBAL village is about communication, and we got an overdose in TV's lurid images of torn limbs and bloody bodies pried from the wreckage of the federal building in Oklahoma City.

In the beginning, a line on our screens said the video was "unedited." Those bloody scenes make you appreciate editors. Up to now, they had kept the worst from us, holding up a shield against technology's cold, flat stare.

But not Wednesday, when the bombing overwhelmed the censor's well-meaning cloak. Camera crews arrived at the disaster scene with the first of the emergency vehicles and beamed us the awful truth as it unfolded. As word got around, we turned on our sets and became live witnesses.

The camera's eye was ours. It peered unblinking into the burned faces of soundless babies being rushed to ambulances, at that dazed office worker and his nearly severed arm, at the unconscious victims being wheeled from the building.

The footage was unfiltered by any attempt to spare us the rawness of the butchery. In the movies, violence is stylized. Real-life violence turns the stomach. It is brutal, shocking and awful, sometimes beyond words. But it's never beyond pictures.

"You might not want to watch this," shaken anchor people warned. "This is hard to watch," they kept saying. Before the editors back in the studio could grab hold of the story and perform their merciful function, wounds gaped in clear view, and the dead and dying were hurried past.

Heedless of the warnings, we watched anyway, stupefied at first and then enraged. What craven monsters could inflict this carnage on innocents? And Oklahoma City, of all places. The questions are rhetorical, of course. The world is full of monsters deformed by hatreds that seethe as hot as magma.

The instant coverage led to later thought about what kind of world it is where babies can be considered targets. The scenes reminded us that evil is not an abstraction. It is real and palpable and walks around on two legs looking as if it wouldn't hurt a fly.

And why not Oklahoma City? Isn't it America's heartland, where the corn grows as high as an elephant's eye? The message, which the bombers knew would be faithfully communicated by satellite and fiber optic, is plain. No place is safe.

The media has put us at ringside for good. We're regulars at every debauch of violence, no matter how distant the country or obscure the quarrel.

It's part of the price we pay for living in the global village.

War, coup, insurrection, massacre, murder, mutilation, poison gas attacks on Japanese subways. How well we are acquainted with them all, thanks to our nightly vigil before the small screen.

It's there in living color, but not usually at such length and with such heart-breaking clarity as yesterday.

The blasted federal building looked like a bureau of drawers somebody had ransacked. It was a symbol of our government and country, profaned and desecrated.

What we have is another way to look at the global village.

No American is immune from the fights that distant people pick with one another as empires dissolve and religious zealots clash. Not even with our two broad moats and good intentions.

Their wars are brought to our home. And we look on, never becoming inured to the horror no matter what we see. Or how often.

Jerry Carroll wrote this column for the San Francisco Chronicle.

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