My friend León, who I've known for four years, lives in Madrid and commutes on the same trains and through the same stations that were bombed. I'd like to point out his entries about the bombing - he wrote several in English, first here and then here and then here and then briefly here, plus an entry in Spanish here that I'm going to take the liberty of attempting to translate for you below, because even though León is far more bilingual than I am, I have reliable internet access right now whereas due to the bombings, León does not, so it's probably easier for me to do it than for him to, and I think it's important for non-Spanish-speaking people to read this as well as Spanish-speaking ones.
Saturated with information
The worst thing than you can do is to turn on the television. How they dramatize it all. All with such tearjerking power.
Today I have been in the house of English students who live FACING the train in which three bombs exploded, on Téllez Street. I looked out the window and there was the train, the famous train. I had already seen it so many times it that didn't seem real. I thought that my students would be more informed than I about the events by their proximity to the place where the facts have happened. "Man, of course," said María, "we've been watching the television all day." They had not even looked out the window. Their father decided, the first hour in the morning, to close the blind and the curtains and to prohibit the children from looking out the window or leaving the house so that they would not be traumatized. But he has not prevented them from watching television.
They had been able to see wounded people dying, twisting between irons, bleeding... Just by looking out the window. But they have seen it all through another window on the world: the television. That other window on the world that perhaps shows images worse than those one can see out the real one. Except that, by being on television, they seem distant and as though they don't affect oneself. To see people dying at the door of your house can damage you and make you afraid. To see a canned version on television affects one but is not as damaging as the direct contact.
And there is another reflection. The reality in itself does not say anything to most people. To see a human drama is terrible but, without the commentary, music, the assembly of images... It's simply not the same. To my students what they have seen in reality has not moved them so much, the train in flames in front of their house. What has moved them is the version that the television offered of that reality. The reality is only reality if we see it on television.
For that reason, as soon as there is a dramatic event, everyone goes to the television. The television tells us, in small words and without making us think much, what we have to think about the facts, how we have to react and feel.
This afternoon in Madrid streets were vacant. I have never seen the Puerta del Sol so vacant on a Thursday night. All were in their houses or the bars of their district, watching television. I passed by the front of a bar in Santa María de la Cabeza and there were hundreds of people with their eyes fixed on one sole screen. There were more people than on the day of a Madrid-Barcelona game. Even the (few) people still dispersed by the street stopped in front of the bar to see some images taken from inside a train.
And it doesn't only happen to my students, the clients of the bar and the diners at Santa María de la Cabeza. It also happens to me. To see people running by Delicias Street and crying in the Paseo del Prado has not made me cry, to see the Samur, the Summa and thousands of police and firemen when I have passed through Atocha has not made an impression on me. I have felt fear, that yes, and desire to go home as soon as possible. To turn on the television and to find out what happened. The commotion and the tears have come after turning on the television. To see the same people who I had seen in person crying and running on television has made me cry. To see it directly, in meat and bone, has only produced terror in me.
And what has the television produced? It packs everything in a certain way. It will be the assembly, the dramatic music, the commentaries of the journalists. I don't know what it is. The television gives sense to the reality. People need the television and the means in general to make sense of it all. So that something means something, they must see it on television. Otherwise there are fragments, dispersed experiences, impressions of one thing and another.
On a program that I have seen today almost all the people (victims, relatives, volunteers of the services of emergency) have agreed on the same. "I couldn't believe what had happened until I had come home and seen it on television." But they were there, no? Removing the bodies, surrounded by wounded, disoriented, sad, crying, speaking with their families to assure them that they were okay. And, nevertheless, none of these people have realized what happened to them until they have watched it on television. The synthesis, the wider picture, to put words and soundtrack to the images of the street and the entertainment, because the drama also is entertainment.
And soon it will be those people who live more through what is on television than through what happens in real life. Doesn't it happen a little to all of us? My roommate has arrived for the evening. He has locked himself in his room for hours and has cried disconsolately in front of the television. He has only paused to go to the bathroom or for snacks. He has not even asked us how we're doing, although knows that we travel in the Atocha zone at the hour of the attack. He cries like a Magdalene for people he doesn't know and to the people nearer he has not even asked how they are. If one of the two of us had died, perhaps he might have been interested. Perhaps they would have pulled us out on television. Or maybe he could have called some program with his "claim to fame" and have had that stardom that everyone desires. To appear on television and to be part of what is happening. If you don't go on television, if you don't see it on television, you're not part of it.