At the height of the WikiLeaks scandal, I was spending a lot of time with a lovely and intelligent young woman who was very interested in what was going on. She would try to talk to me about WikiLeaks, and I would do my best to contribute even though I didn’t know the first thing about it. One night she even sent me links to news stories, which I didn’t open or read. Granted, I considered clicking on the links, but then I decided to shift my focus to the new Beverly Hills 90210 being broadcast on Korean television. WikiLeaks be damned; I needed to know if Navid was going to take Adrianna back.
The truth was, I didn’t care one bit about what was happening with WikiLeaks. Even though I understood that it was an important story, I was entirely apathetic towards it. I consider myself to be a pretty bright person, and yet somehow learning about WikiLeaks didn’t appeal to me at all. I was far more concerned with 90210, K-pop, and status updates on Facebook.
In fact, I hadn’t given much thought to the news at all until the recent turmoil in Egypt. That said, my interest wasn’t perked by the violence in Cairo or my stance on whether or not President Mubarak should resign. Nope. See, I have a friend named Choua who had planned to go to Egypt for winter break. At the beginning of the protests, when I was on an island and had limited access to the Internet, I thought Choua was there. Not as though I expected to see her in any news footage, being ridden over by a crazed Mubarak supporter on a camel, but just the idea that I had a friend in the middle of this mess caused me to pay attention.
It was a huge leap from 90210, where the characters look like people I’ve met, and the problems are things I can relate to.
If Choua was what caused me to initially tune in, the story itself was what caused me to stick with it. I became fascinated. I watched reports and read articles. Even in parts of Thailand where there are no English channels, I kept the television on so that I would know what was happening. I was, thankfully, acting like a smart person again.
And that made me think that the apathy of the American public could change for the better if there was some sort of buddy system put in place. If everyone had friends overseas, we would care more, right? Isn’t that the knock on Americans? We’re ignorant and we don’t care? Well, since not everyone has a large circle of worldly friends, we could start assigning people foreign buddies. It’s brilliant! The Anti-Apathy Buddy System could be a perfect. At birth, each American would get assigned a number of foreign buddies and the correspondence would start. Think of how less ignorant we’d be. Instead of Chile just being some place that sounds like a food, it could become “the place where Adelmo lives.” In time, Americans would start demanding assistance be made to Chad, because Dahab’s life is hell. Watching the events unfold in Egypt, I thought about how apathy doesn’t really come from a lack of interest, but instead from the impersonal nature of politics, combined with the safety of knowing that the people killed in war are just names, the children dying of hunger in third-world countries just bones.
Choua never made it to Egypt. She spent her vacation in Germany instead, away from the protests and the curfews, the tanks and the planes. I watched it all on TV, finally concerned with people who looked nothing like me, with problems that were so much more important.