What would Simmel say?

http://www.nytimes.com/2010/04/26/nyregion/26homeless.html?_r=1&

This incident of a man dying in a street for more than an hour before anyone could call 911 partially reflects the blasé attitude described by Simmer. We can’t know what everyone who noticed him was thinking, but there are a few examples of people who stopped. One couple appeared to have a conversation about it, and paused to take pictures – regardless of their attitude towards the police, their reaction doesn’t seem to reflect an appropriate reaction to the situation. Taking pictures does not communicate the sense of shock one would expect to have in such a situation.

Certainly there are other factors here that perhaps don’t reflect the concept Simmel described. Mistrust of the police and fear of physical harm can be motivators that don’t reflect the boredom and apathy that characterizes Simmel’s idea of the blasé attitude. Aversion to making statements and testimonies can also be a selfish, but understandable motivation to avoiding such an incident. But on a public street, one expects a certain volume of people with a reasonable range of different interpretations and reactions to the situation. The article doesn’t quantify the amount of people who enter the camera’s frame, but the lack of curiosity towards the situation also demonstrates the blasé attitude, as the spectacle of a man lying on pavement seems to be unconsidered by others.

 

Peter Jameson

 

One thought on “What would Simmel say?

  1. I agree wholeheartedly that this incident only partially reflects the blasé attitude. It is difficult to know why no one stopped to help. I find it interesting that there was a couple that took pictures. There seems to be a phenomenon of selfies with homeless people on social media. It’s also so true about the aversion to making statements. Involvement usually means a lengthy commitment. I witnessed a mugging and had to testify. It took months for the situation to be resolved. It was terrifying to give testimony and come face to face with the perpetrators and those there to support them. There is little to do to protect those that do give statements. Inaction is a complicated behavior to measure.

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