Notre Dame sets media ablaze. Why?

Ava Merker

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Notre-Dame de Paris is undoubtedly a significant historical, religious, and cultural monument that holds a lot of importance to a lot of people, and the fire that devastated the cathedral last week has rendered an outpouring of emotional support from the global community. However, in the wake of the fire, my unease has not been centered around the destruction of the cathedral itself, but more about the incongruity of our concern for upsetting news regarding one historic monument than that of other significant sites.

As Notre-Dame burned and its iconic spire collapsed, my Instagram feed began to overflow with stories and posts, images of the cathedral with the caption “heartbroken” or “devastated.” My friends asked in passing, “oh my gosh, did you hear about Notre-Dame?” My grandmother sent me emails with links to news articles about the fire. I did not know that on the same day that Notre-Dame burned, a small fire broke out at the Al-Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem, nor did I know that between March 26 and April 4, a white-supremacist set fire to three historically black churches in Louisiana. My Instagram feed did not show any posts about the accidental fire at the mosque or the purposeful fires at the Louisiana churches. My grandmother did not send me any emails.

Clearly, I am not alone in recognizing the discrepancy in the media coverage of these three events. The results of The Record’s anonymous survey sent out earlier this week reveal that roughly 92 percent of participants had heard about the Notre-Dame fire through either the news, social media, or family and friends. On the other hand, 35 percent of participants did not even know about the Al-Aqsa Mosque’s fire. Similarly, only 32 percent of participants were not aware of the fires at the Louisiana churches. To be clear, it is not necessarily our fault that most of us were unaware of the destruction of these four religious structures. The results of the poll reveal that American media did not cover these events as often or as thoroughly as they did for Notre-Dame.

Although Notre-Dame’s history and religious importance transcends religious, cultural, racial, and ethnic differences (it remains a symbol of religious unity for Christians around the world), when white, Christian communities are harmed, Western media outlets flock to express their overwhelming support and sympathy. However, when tragedy targets traditionally non-white, non-Christian communities, the same media sources seem only to quietly lament. In this particular case, I am especially bothered by the fact that although the fires at the three Louisiana churches were hate crimes, the stories did not receive nearly the same amount of support and sadness as Notre-Dame. Shouldn’t we be at least equally heartbroken by a white-supremacist burning down three historically black churches as we are by a beautiful cathedral accidentally catching fire? Shouldn’t our equal heartbrokenness be represented in the media?

I realize that the fire at Al-Aqsa Mosque was quickly put out and the building suffered minimal damage, and the three Louisiana churches did raise more than two million dollars for support (ultimately because Notre-Dame burned at around the same time). But neither of these incidents received the same outpouring of support from millions of celebrities, politicians, and everyday media users as Notre-Dame did. At least within the school community, we should make an effort to seek out and disseminate information that we think is being overlooked. I believe that it is important that millions of people care immensely for Notre-Dame and are genuinely hurt by the damage to the cathedral. However, I think that damage done to any religious or cultural site, regardless of the communities associated with it, needs to be met with the same support, sympathy, and solidarity.