Compassion Fatigue and Constructing Meaning

Media technologies and the texts which they create and communicate allow us to see and hear things – to witness things – that we otherwise would not be able to experience. This is written about by Ellis in ‘Century of Witness’ which we were required to read in preparation for our seminar.

Compassion fatigue is the idea that we have grown weary of, or desensitised to images of suffering, injustice or need from around the world because of media exposure (partially through charity ads, but also the news).


For example, when you see a charity advert what emotional responses do you have? For me, its boredom or annoyance because it’s something I have seen so many times and it becomes frustrating. This is not good, as they often show shocking images which should gain more emotional responses. We’re becoming desensitised because we’re constantly bombarded by negative images throughout the media.

The Trap of Media Texts

It can be tempting but dangerous to think that media texts offer a ‘window on the world’ or a ‘snapshot of reality’. Mediation never equals reality. Remember that all texts are constructed. They are selected and specifically picked for a purpose. Selection can reveal a great deal about the motivations behind a text’s creation but not the reality of the thing it is representing.

Fixing Meaning: Anchorage

Sometimes a texts’ meaning is ambiguous. Take photographs for example, they have a fluidity of meaning, unlike words which are far more specific. If you combine photography with the written language, like captions, you can fix, or anchor, the meaning. But because a caption says one thing about a photograph doesn’t mean that you understand the full context especially when you remember that all media texts are constructed for a purpose.

I do not own the above image, it is from:

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