Monday, April 15, 2013

Pictures in the Media: The Good, The Bad, and The Graphic

The bombings at the Boston Marathon are absolutely horrible.  I am once again completely unable to grasp why someone would choose to do something so awful.  It seems like these type of events continue to happen over and over again--be it the bombings today, the Sandy Hook school shooting, the theater shooting, etc. Whatever it is, it's always horrible. 

There are some extremely graphic photos from the bombing available on the internet now.  Most of them are coming by way of Twitter or other social media sites and are being shared over and over again.  And inevitably, some people object to such graphic, disturbing, horrific, and tragic images being plastered all over for everyone in the world to gawk at. 

It's an understandable sentiment.  Often there are victims in these photos, people who didn't ask to be hurt or killed, who didn't agree to be photographed, who are now dealing with something completely unimaginable, who are vulnerable and unable to ask that they not be photographed.  And the images are haunting and deeply disturbing.  One photo shows a man being wheeled in a wheelchair who has clearly just had both of his legs blown off below the knee--the bones are gaping out in the photo and it's incredibly upsetting to see that. 

So the question arises of whether or not such images should be made available for the public to view.  Graphic, disturbing, and victim-filled photographs.  Should they be censored? Should they not be aired? Should we be allowed to see these things?

I think we should. 

Not because I am interested in seeing the carnage and horror that other people have to deal with out of some prurient desires. I think we should see them because we need to see them.  We need to be confronted with the chaos and horror that accompanies these events.  Maybe if we continue to see them, they will stop. 

When you see these things, when graphic images like the ones of the bombings today show a sidewalk literally coated with blood from victims, it's no longer a news story.  It's not words on paper or a pundit's report.  It's real, it's there, and you have to see these things.  A picture does say a 1,000 words.  We can talk about ending violence, we can discuss the terrible things that people have lived through or died from as a result of someone else's actions, we can debate gun control and mental health issues all we want.  When we aren't looking at it, we can distance ourselves from it and we can give lip service without real action. 

People throughout history have known the power of the visual image to bring about change.  Emmett Till's mother insisted on an open casket and public funeral so that the nation would see the brutality of the attack on her son.  The photos from the funeral ran in the paper and garnered intense reactions from both black and white communities.  People in the North suddenly were seeing for themselves just what sort of atrocities were occurring in the South in a way they never had seen before. 

The civil rights movement gained momentum from the media and the images, often extremely disturbing, of protesters being sprayed with firehoses, empty buses, etc.  People couldn't shut out the images.  They were being confronted with the reality in a way that is harder to dismiss than simply hearing about it.  You can't un-see an image.  And often, the graphic, haunting ones remain with us forever, even though we may forget the details of the spoken word.  An image can capture the event in a way that words cannot. 

So, perhaps we need to see the carnage to understand it.  We need to see the victims maimed and bloodied, the limbs torn through by shrapnel, the gunshot wounds, the blood-soaked sidewalks.  Perhaps if we had to see these things, if the reality of what happened and still continues to happen was pushed in front of us, we couldn't have polite debates and political rhetoric about ways to control violence--we would act to help end violence.  Perhaps if we had to see the atrocities suffered by others, we would be less likely as a society to continue to commit those atrocities against one another.  Maybe the images, as horrible as they are, are something we as a society need to see, so we understand what's really happening while we're all busy talking and debating and ignoring and shutting our eyes.  Maybe it's exactly what we need to prevent future horrors. Maybe we will finally reach a point where we can no longer bear the sight of people, children, elderly, damaged and wounded and dead and maybe then, we'll stop hurting each other. 

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