The problematic imaginative geographies of collective ‘grieving’ on social media

This provocative article “Got a French flag on your Facebook profile picture? Congratulations on your corporate white supremacy” on The Independent‘s website makes for a compelling read.

I think is worth reading alongside the excellent letter from Paris by Judith Butler posted to the Verso blog “Mourning becomes the law” – also a must-read, really:

Mourning seems fully restricted within the national frame. The nearly 50 dead in Beirut from the day before are barely mentioned, and neither are the 111 in Palestine killed in the last weeks alone, or the scores in Ankara. Most people I know describe themseves as “at an impasse”, not able to think the situation through. One way to think about it may be to come up with a concept of transversal grief, to consider how the metrics of grievability work, why the cafe as target pulls at my heart in ways that other targets cannot. It seems that fear and rage may well turn into a fierce embrace of a police state. I suppose this is why I prefer those who find themselves at an impasse. That means that this will take some time to think through.  It is difficult to think when one is appalled. It requires time, and those who are willing to take it with you

A few snippets from The Independent article:

So you want to show solidarity with France – specifically, with those killed in Paris this weekend. If you’re a British person who wants to do that because you feel sympathy and sadness for people who are brutally massacred, regardless of their nationality, then fine. I just hope that you also change your profile picture to a different country’s flag every time people are wrongly killed as the result of international conflicts – for example, during the attack on Beirut in Lebanon just the day before.

Flags are politically and historically charged symbols (just look at the infamous and aptly self-styled Isis flag itself), symbolising states and representing influence, power, segregation, borders, nationalism and identity – some of the most commonly held reasons for armed conflict. It’s important, before overlaying a flag on your smiling face, to think about this.

I’m guessing you didn’t feel moved to drape yourself in the Tricolore [sic] until Facebook pushed that option out to you, possibly even until you saw how many people had already snapped it up. But paint-by-numbers solidarity when it’s foisted on you by one of the most powerful companies in the world is simply not the way to help a traumatised nation in shock after murder.

I’d just add that apparently the tricolor overlay implemented by Facebook has a setting that allows the user to automatically switch it off after a given length of time… how convenient.

There has, of course, been some interesting academic and journalistic discussion of what has been referred to as ‘recreational grieving’ and ‘mourning sickness‘ that is cognate to this argument, but the article above puts in sharper relief complex issues concerning the kinds of imaginative geographies that are being (re)produced and performed in response to the incredibly sad and horrific events that took place in Paris last weekend and their aftermath… something Derek Gregory has also written about on his blog.

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