The actress Jennifer Lawrence has breasts. This may not seem to be particularly newsworthy, but we, as a society, are more interested in her boobs than anything else right now.
I like to know what is going on in the world. To do this, I consume a lot of news – probably twenty different sources a day. I read Hufvudstadsbladet, watch the BBC, follow Bloomberg’s website, and I also use some other methods, like seeing what is trending on Google and Twitter. This does not only tell me what editors think is news, but also what people are interested in. And what we are interested in is Jennifer Lawrence’s boobs.
The hacking and distribution of celebrities’ private pictures has taken precedence over all other stories. We are twenty-five times more likely to search for Jennifer Lawrence than Ukraine on Google. We are seventeen times more interested in naked celebrities than the Ebola outbreak. This makes sense, in a way: people in the West are likely to have seen Kate Upton in Sports Illustrated or watched McKayla Maroney at the Olympics. We don’t have much experience with epidemics like the Ebola outbreak.
There were occasional scares over SARS or swine flu, but the last real threat that touched the West was HIV / AIDS. The fear of HIV has declined over time because of advances in medicine, so the younger generations don’t even have that same cold terror I felt in my youth when a blood transfusion or one night stand could kill me.
We tend to think that the threat of epidemics has declined in the developed world. We have innovative medicines and new equipment and the best procedures. While all this is true, sooner or later we will have another outbreak. It might be flu or Ebola or maybe something that hasn’t been identified yet. When it does happen Western society will hopefully reevaluate its priorities.
I wrote Dead Romans with this in mind. In my novel three characters have to deal with a plague outbreak in the city of Ephesus during the height of the Roman Empire. The characters are directly impacted by the plague and have to deal with its wider effects upon society. What happens if so many people die that it disrupts food supplies? I wrote about it in my book and unsurprisingly the exact same thing is happening right now in Sierra Leone because of Ebola.
It is newsworthy when a celebrity gets hacked and her private, intimate pictures are posted online, I guess. But I find it hard to believe this should be a priority. What happened to you is dreadful, Jennifer, but I just don’t think it is that important in the grand scheme of things.