The Things That Upset Us

America is dying. Don’t make me look:

Sunday’s A-1 photo featured an American flag in a trash can outside of a home that was in the process of going through a short sale.

The article by reporter Jesse Bogan focused on foreclosures in the Briarchase subdivision in O’Fallon, Mo. The subdivision is representative of the crisis taking place across the country.

The image has drawn more than two dozen letters and comments from readers. Some strongly objected to the image and others saw it as symbolic of the crisis.

I have to say I didn’t like seeing a flag in the trash, which was why I photographed it. Part of me was pleased to have found the situation because I knew I could make an image that spoke about the foreclosure mess. I believe the photo does a good job of illustrating the seriousness of the story. For me, it is symbolic of the American dream of home ownership that has fallen to pieces for so many people who have been hit hard during this recession.

Others wanted to know if I had “staged” the photo or why I didn’t remove the flag when I saw it or after I was done photographing it.

As a journalist, I’m bound by ethics to only record and document reality. I never stage it or change it, even after I’m done photographing it. There are only rare exceptions when a journalist can and should intervene, like in a life-threatening situation. For example, if I were available to help save a drowning person I’d dive in after them.

Several people questioned my respect for veterans and all they have fought for over the years.

I have great respect for veterans and their service. Both of my grandfathers fought in World War II, and my father served on the U.S.S Enterprise during Vietnam. While I never served in the military, I traveled to both Iraq and Afghanistan to cover American and NATO forces in those wars. On top of that, I’m named after my father’s best friend, David Gray Prentice, who was killed in Vietnam.

Others felt it was disrespectful to show a flag thrown in the trash. I understand why some people feel that. The American flag is iconic and has the ability to stir strong emotions. If the image I created of the flag in the trash moves you, then I have done my job. I would argue that apathy is a far greater threat to the flag and the ideals that it stands for.

Which, fucking WORD, okay? You know, we spend so much time avoiding getting het up about the actual suffering and misery around us, so much time convincing ourselves there’s nothing we can do about anything, and you know what happens? We wind up freaking out over a flag picture. Because that’s all that’s left to freak out about. A flag picture. What kind of mustard the president likes. Who the neighbors are allowed to marry. That’s what gets the readers of a newspaper all in a tizzy.

Because, you know, people are basically good. We do have energy we need to expend in considering things that are not our own navels. We have impulses to do good and we have compassion and we have an urge to alleviate suffering. And so what those who profit from the opposite of all of that have to do is convince us to direct those impulses, that compassion, all that energy, at shit that makes no difference whatsoever. You end up with letters to the paper about how a flag in the trash is disrespectful to veterans, because it’s throwing the flag for which they fought away.

You know what else is disrespectful to veterans? Turning the entire country for which they fought into a big trash heap and throwing everything that makes it great onto that great big pile of shit. Letting a bunch of moneyed monsters run roughshod over people’s lives, take their homes, cheat their children and starve their grandparents. Turning homeownership into just another way to break people. Seventeen foreclosures in one subdivision, is what that story was about, but hey, let’s get mad at the photographer for taking a picture that, it just so happens, perfectly illustrates exactly how screwed we are right now as a country. Let’s not get mad at the screwing, or who’s doing it, or the form it’s taking. Let’s write the photographer an angry note about how we’re pissed that he’s putting it in the paper.

Because that’ll help.


11 thoughts on “The Things That Upset Us

  1. Right now there are tens of thousands (at least) of veterans among the homeless, which last time I checked was not a very respect-filled way of life for the victim, nor garnered much respect from the kind of flag-fetishist tools who write letters to the editor getting upset about pieces of cloth.
    Note also there was no criticism of the person who actually put the flag in the trash, only of the photographer and editors who brought it to their attention. ‘Keep my blindfold on, keep me in the dark and I’m happy’ is the mentality.

  2. It’s the thinking of tiny minds: to get all het up about the flag, as if it’s a Sacred Object, and completely ignore the real and more critical point. This is why Repubs win.

  3. Or you can make like the car salesmen around here and use the Respect Of Veterans as a sales tactic. Woohoo, a whole 10% off for area veterans. Because that’ll help.
    We are increasingly a SHAMELESS lot.

  4. “My Daddy died for that flag!”
    “Really? ’cause I got mine at Wal-Mart…”

    Bill Hicks

  5. You know, and I say this as someone who is a veteran, our fetishization of the military will be one of the things that undoes us. Not, mind you, that the people who crow so loudly actually give a fuck about the people who wore or are wearing the uniforms–they’re just a convenient bludgeon that only works on Democrats.
    Fuck, it’s like watching a film of someone being murdered with a wooden spoon. In slow motion. It’s too ridiculous to happen, but it’s right there in front of you.

  6. Who is the true villain in this story? Would they accept the moniker of villain? Remember that great, story on This American Life? “The Giant Pool of Money?”
    Some people got very nervous when it came to naming names. And the reason is that if people could identify the actual people who did actual crimes and those people didn’t have some sort of BS alibi then the producers knew that those people’s lives might be in danger.
    Is protecting the identity of the lawbreakers the job of the media? What if they have a good reason? ‘I was just doing my job, making money for my company. It was all legal.” Why was it legal? Because your bosses bosses boss changed the law to make it legal.
    This is why the lower level people get nailed. If you are smart you work to fix the laws so you aren’t breaking them. Technically legal. Morally you are under no obligations except to make money.
    (BTW this is one way that I work to hit law breakers, find their stock holders and ask them to beat up people like Murdoch for supporting a money loser like Glenn Beck.)

  7. @Jude,
    100% agree. I spent my life in uniform but I’ve never been so uncomfortable as these past few years whenwhatever the military does, it isalways the right and righteous thing to do.
    Bacevich has been sounding the warnings or our militarized society for quite a while. A lot of our other dysfunction – especially the bullsh*t macho pathology of yellow elephants – flows from the failure to curb our militaristic bent. Sadly, only we ourselves can cure the sickness. In other captured societies (eg, Japan, Germany), it took a complete, devastating a$$ kicking to cure them. And today, there is no one else able to deliver such a lesson to the USA.
    As for the tenor of our crazed and oh-so-hypocritical fellow citizens objecting to a flipping picture but failing to care about the bigger picture, I’m happy that this photographer told them to screw themselves. We need more of that. And less apologizing for offending the wingnuttery.

  8. One think I notice a lot, when the foreclosure mess is in the news, is the spate of letters to the editor noting that those who lost their homes deserved it. They shoulda just sucked in their gut, gave up eating, and paid their bills on time. Far too many of us are enjoying seeing our neighbors lose it all, just because they dared to buy a bigger house than we have. We Americans do have a streak of “ugly” in our personalities.

  9. I’d say the photographer found an iconic image–a metaphor for the times.
    That someone jumps up and screams that the image is insulting to the military is just more empty flag-waving by morons.
    As a veteran, I’m insulted by the white-collar perps getting away with this shit.

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