Tuesday, 16 April 2013

Different narratives in reporting of Boston marathon bombing

As news of the bomb attacks at the Boston marathon circulates around the globe, different narratives are emerging that illusrate the complex (and sometimes contradictory) ways that such horrific events can be portrayed. For instance, coverage by the BBC of the explosions talks of 'panic' but then in the very same sentence, mentions the almost instant co-operation in their aftermath;

'There was initial confusion and panic. Some runners fell to the floor while police and bystanders ran to help those caught in the blast'.

video clip also shows people rushing in to help victims immediately after the blast, and bystanders joining with race officials, police, and military personnel to remove fencing and help the injured. There is also evidence of individual bystanders with no specialist role on the day putting themselves at risk to help others, and gawker focusses on the actions of a Costa Rican peace activist who was in the vicinity. This fits with studies of mass emergencies that have found that uninjured bystanders can often become 'zero-responders' by helping casualties before the emergency services arrive (Cocking, In Press; Cole et al, 2011)

Finally, coverage by the BBC on the day after the attacks explores the parallels drawn between this incident and 9/11, and alludes to a sense of solidarity amongst Bostonians, with a marathon runner saying; "terrible things do bring people together". There is also emphasis on the sense of defiance amongst joggers the following morning . I think that this shows how an initial narrative of vulnerability presented by the media can quickly shift into a narrative of resilience, despite the apparent inconsistency between the two perspectives.

John Drury looked in his blog post  at how differring narratives of the 7/7 London Bombings emerged in their aftermath, and of the possible implications that maintaining each narrative could have. We also developed this idea in an upcoming paper about the Hillsborough football  disaster (Cocking & Drury, in Press), where we argued that assuming vulnerable responses amongst crowds and communities affected by disasters could result in them being treated in ways that could stifle any potential resilience from emerging. I believe that the scenes of courage and altruism that happened in Boston yesterday illustrate the remarkable resilient potential that people have to cope with such horrific incidents and hope that such narratives will prevail rather than assuming that selfish 'panicked' behaviour is the dominant response.

Cocking, C. (In Press) Crowd resilience during the 7/7/2005 London Bombings: Implications for the Emergency Services. International Journal of the Emergency Services.
Cocking, C. & Drury, J. (in Press) Talking about a tragedy: ‘Panic’ as discourse in survivors’ accounts of the Hillsborough disaster. Journal of Community and Applied Social Psychology.
Cole, J., Walters, M. & Lynch, M (2011). Part of the solution, not the problem: the crowd's role in emergency response, Contemporary Social Science, 6 (3) 361-375.

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