Witnessing Distant and Proximal Suffering within a 'Zone of Danger': Lay Moralities of Media Audiences in the Philippines
journal contributionposted on 28.09.2015, 14:56 by Jonathan C. Ong
Drawing on the anthropology of moralities, the phronetic turn in media ethics scholarship, and audience research in media studies, this article explores how media audiences in the global South are implicated in moral dilemmas of bearing witness. Central are the diverse audience practices of engaging with proximal suffering on one hand and distant suffering on the other, where sympathy with or denial strategies towards suffering others are shaped not only by audiences’ geographical distance to tragedy, but crucially by classed moralities that profoundly shape judgments to sufferers and the media that represent them. A synthesis of ethnographic audience research with middle-class and low-income populations in disaster-prone Philippines shows how middle-class moralities of respectability inform social denial to proximal suffering, while low-income people’s personal experiences of suffering lead to the instrumenta- lization of television narratives as symbolic resources to cope with their own suffering.