Empathy, Voyeurism, and the ‘Alien Adversary:’ Portrayals of Tragedies in News Media and The Devil of Nanking

Audrey Ronningen


his author broaches her piece’s subject, the ethics of representing tragedy, by analyzing two types of literature with an unusual relationship to this issue. The first genre, news media, holds a social responsibility that necessarily entails producing coverage of tragedies. Juxtaposed to this is the detective novel, whose reputation for sensationalistic writing commonly deals with death but rarely does so in a way that touches upon the trauma of real life atrocities. However, this piece’s argument stems from the notion of a reversal in works of these genres with regards to ethical representation. An examination of news depictions of violent death reveals that coverage often fails to accomplish an essential goal of ethical representation: a respectful portrayal that allows the audience to grieve vicariously with victims. While many news pieces depict sensitive events with the same excitement and distance from reality that characterize detective fiction, the detective novel The Devil of Nanking, by Mo Hayder manages to address an equally grave topic in a way that encourages the reader’s vicarious grief. This piece’s analysis establishes criteria of responsible representation and, using the shortcomings and successes of selected works, details the implications of straying from and upholding these ethics in literature,

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