I recently read an editorial from my old paper the Gauntlet. It was full of youthful idealism. Not that I don't have any youthful idealism or that youthful idealism is bad, just that student papers generally have so much.
The author writes about three tragic problems for humanity and wonders why they didn't elicit the same level of donations as the Tsunami. He suggests that these problems:
In Darfur, Sudan, where tens of thousands killed in some sort of armed conflict,
In Bam, Iran, an earthquake killed 27,000 people,
The African HIV crisis with 24 million infected.
Are just as worthy a cause but are not receiving donations because of low television ratings. He says, "It is saddening to see how much our sympathies are determined by television ratings."
I don't think our sympathies are determined by television ratings at all. If anything television ratings are determined by our sympathies. I get the feeling that the only people affected by television ratings are television executives and advertisers.
There are also other major factors that affect our sympathies towards these four events. (I'm including the HIV crisis even though it's not really an event as much as a continual epidemic.)
First, is the fact that it affected people who know people. Many people from first world countries were vacationing on the beaches where the tsunami hit at the time of the tsunami. This fact makes it a global tragedy with a local angle.
Oprah Winfrey can interview her renovation guy and friend, Nate, about what it was like to be in the wave. He can give a tear-jerking account about losing his best friend, and he speaks English.
Second the affected region is not an outpost of tyranny, as is Iran. Seriously, if the earthquake had been in a country that President Bush doesn't want to go to war with it would have been a little different.
Third, we have a problem with HIV too. Since the HIV is an ongoing thing, it is harder to see the fund raising that goes into it. You stop noticing the donation boxes at the convincer store and AIDS awareness week stops having the impact that promoters want it to have. Not that the cause is any less worthy, just that it's always there in the background of our consciousness. People that want to do something about it generally want to do something about it locally first. That may or may not be the best way to fight the problem, but that is what happens.