Tuesday, March 07, 2006

Please, No Pictures

Several commenters have suggested that it would be a good idea, and perhaps a more forceful presentation, to have actual images of those dying in these terrorist attacks superimposed on the bloody borders project, to make the reality more vivid.

One argument, a good one, is that we tend to experience only sanitized versions of the ugliness of terror and war. Another says that an accumulation of data — including images — makes us more knowledgeable and objective.

I disagree. Such images either traumatize us or they inure us to the awful reality. There is already so much “imaged” violence in our culture already. To add to it seems a muchness.

No doubt this kind of presentation would draw more people in to view it. There is something about seeing horror vicariously that can ease some people, and make voyeurs of others.

This doesn’t mean there are no occasions on which images are not appropriate. Every September 11th, we need to re-visit those scenes, to commemorate the victims and to honor their memory. But to see them all the time? What does that do to the survivors or their families? How do they dare to turn on their televisions, or even their PCs, and not be afraid of being hit with their loss all over again? Nothing would ever have a chance to heal.

There is a brisk trade in Islamic countries in videos of the beheadings and the burned bodies on the bridge. Do we want to be like them, marketing horror for others’ enjoyment? Put one of your children, or your brother, or your father in those scenes and they suddenly become the violation and obscenity that they truly are.

No, please, no pictures. They are burned in my memory from that first day. I don’t want to see them again. I remember only too well what happened. For future generations, it is important to save them, so they can experience the horror for themselves. But we know. We have the hollow place in our chest, in our stomach, whenever we even mentally gaze at those falling bodies. They are someone’s parents, children, brothers and sisters. If six degrees of separation is true, some of these people belong to us in ways we cannot yet fathom.

Let the dead lie in peace under the tons of rubble which fell on them. Let them lie in whatever dignity and courage they found in making that terrible, endless fall.


Dymphna said...

mobile mineral--

Thanks for your breadth of view in being able to see mine. I understand your point, but I shrink from it...
...speaking of shrinks, I was telling mine today that in death, the face becomes private and that we instinctively move to cover the face of the dead person first...I was thinking of people in car accidents...somehow it seems as indecent to gaze on the face of the unwilling dead as it would be to gaze at their genitalia...

think of your own death, say by the side of the road, brought about by some drunk? Wouldn't you want your would-be rescuers to cover your face so that gawking on-lookers couldn't stare at you?

That thought came up today because I was moved by your ideas re the pictures of the dead and dying...it's given me a lot to think about.

When my daughter died the rescuers worked on her, attempting resusitation. When I annointed her body and wrapped it in linen after the autopsy, I left her face uncovered...but that was only because the casket would be closed. She would have been upset to let anyone see her with those bruises...though, of course, to her mother, she looked okay. But I knew my daughter...I could hear her saying, indignantly, "no way, Mom, are you putting me out there for inspection unless I get to do my make-up myself."

mts said...

I agree with the ban on gross photos. Especially if the photo comes without a story explaining it. I'm thinking of the famous Vietnam news clip of a South Vietnamese General executing a Viet Cong. See this background story, and see how pictures lie, too:

(same link)

A radio personality once made the observation that gory photos were mainly the domain of third world press - that class media didn't need to use them, that they could convey the story as richly without the gore. Plus, exposure eventually brings desensitization.

Jason Pappas said...

A wise decision! Cognitive content can be expressed is a manner where the full gravity of the situation is understood without the need to inflict trauma (as you rightfully put it) or sensationalism. Of course, visuals like graphs and maps make a good secondary aid to rational analysis. Visual attempts to bypass rational analysis worry me.