Notre Dame burned and the West mourned. Then memes like the one above started circulating. Then Ben Davis (editor for ArtNet News) wrote this article —
Davis ends the opinion piece with
If there are two sides, and one says, “Your grief about this is important — come over here!” and the other says, “Your grief about this makes you a bad person — shut up!” then it is obvious which of these two sides’ narratives is going to resonate most broadly. The latter’s unforgivingness becomes the hard surface that the alt-right can bounce off of, to amplify itself to the broad, mixed-up mainstream as the more reasonable party.
It does not necessarily follow that someone who cares about Notre Dame is an apologist for French colonialism or deaf to the loss of lives in Syria.
I would imagine many people (myself included) felt incredible grief upon seeing the fiery images of Notre Dame but were quickly rebuked by accusatory memes that called out our privilege and blindness. This can be confusing and frustrating and honestly, it stings. I don’t think everyone (Ben Davis included) is taking that sting well. Yes, it fully possible to be grieved by the burning icon as well as the suffering happening around the world. And yes, I’m sure there are people sharing these memes who want others to feel ashamed of themselves.
NEVERTHELESS, the sting is useful. I believe it is a healthy activity to check our perspective. When we are forced to consider what we are attached to and why, then we might find that our compass might not be pointing North. We then make adjustments and realign ourselves with a fresher sense of what is important and what we can do to change. In this case, the memes are bluntly pointing out that we have an emotional attachment to an iconic building. This is often re-enforced by vacations to Paris with selfies or childhood nostalgia aka The Hunchback of Notre Dame. This attachment creates a dramatic emotional response to its loss. Finally, the memes declare that the gravity of this response is grossly disproportionate to other losses happening right now — including the apocalyptic loss of civilization.
Let’s accept the sting. Maybe the intentions of the person posting the image are not good. It doesn’t matter. We can ignore intentions and use this as a time for learning and understanding ourselves. Move forward with a humbled attitude that doesn’t face the world’s problems with eyes wide shut.