Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Ken Saro-Wiwa, Shell, and their so-called Reconciliation

Do you have to be famous before someone notices your death? Are martyrs for the cause only worthwhile if they have some acclaim or notoriety?

The recent spin on this BBC article makes me think that the answer to these questions is yes.

After 13 years of litigation, Shell has just agreed pay compensation to individuals in Nigeria, 1 week before they were supposed to go on trial in the US for their abuses in the region.

This move and the article about it strike me as problematic for several reasons. Here are 2 of them:

I realize that fame is a media beast and that newspapers/journalists are vying for attention and popularity (high school never really ends does it?). But to imply that Saro Wiwa's family was compensated negates the suffering of the other families and reduces the significance of the act. It wasn't just 1 individual amongst the nameless crowds. There were many who raised their voices against the human rights violations taking place.

In an age when charities vye for their moment in the spotlight by bringing celebrities into their fold, you sort of have to start wondering, when did our levels of apathy get so large that we needed to be rallied to the cause by a famous face? I know that we are bombarded with information to the point of feeling hopeless and helpless, but maybe if the media took the time to tell the full story, we wouldn't be able to turn our backs and shrug off the ratings game of tabloid media culture.

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