Americans Divided on Whether to Look at Reality

For fuck’s sake, part one: 

The German tabloid Bild and the British paper The Independent were among those publications to print the photograph of the child lying on the beach.

“The image used by the Independent, the natural reaction was to recoil,” said Jane Martinson, head of the media desk at the Guardian. “It was too upsetting. Just showing a dead child, the effect would be to make [readers] withdraw from the story.”

Like many others, the Guardian posted and printed a photograph of a Turkish police officer, or gendarme, lifting the boy’s limp body. So did the The New York Times, well inside the paper. Atop its front page, the Times displayed a photograph of a Syrian family asleep at a Budapest train station.

For fuck’s sake, part two:

Media outlets have long debated how best to deal with violent video footage — a topic that resurfaced tragically last week after the fatal shooting of two journalists on live television.

Different news organizations came to different conclusions. CNN warned viewers before playing footage of the shooting, while other outlets, including The Huffington Post, stopped the video before shots were fired, or chose not to use audio from attack. WDBJ, where the victims worked, chose not to rebroadcast any of the video.

“It’s not a decision you make lightly,” Al Ortiz, CBS’ vice president of standards and practices,told the AP. “An argument was made that we were doing the gunman’s work for him. But the decision we came around to was that it was editorially important to show how methodical, planned and deliberate this was. That’s the only reason we used it.”

Yes, let’s wring our hands a lot right now about people getting dead on our front pages, because frightening some ex-urban book club is obviously the biggest problem with GODDAMN DEAD PEOPLE. You don’t like seeing images of drowned children washed up on the beach? Wow, how unique and special an insight that is. I don’t like it either. I took one look at that photo, left work early and hugged a squirmy Kick as long as she’d let me. Looking at pictures of dead kids really sucks.

You know what else sucks? DEAD KIDS.

You don’t want to look at that? You’d better be prepared to make it not exist, then, because as long as it does exist you should be staring right at it. It is not too much to ask of the comfortable, that we open our eyes, when we ask others to suffer and die for that same comfort.

You don’t like hearing TV reporters shot to death by a lunatic, and then watching that same lunatic prep for it like it was a day at the races? Well hot damn, if only there were sensible gun control options in front of us that are followed by the rest of the civilized world that would have prevented that shooting and all the other mass murders of recent memory. You don’t want to watch that shit? Fine, then you’d better be on the phone to your congressmen right this second, if you expect me to listen to you bitch.

You don’t like seeing people fleeing war-torn countries in basically rafts because dying on the waves is preferable to staying where they were? You don’t want to see their kids starve and drown and die? Well, you can do a couple of things. You can turn off the TV and the computer and put the paper down and you can put your fingers in your ears and you can sing Yankee Doodle Dandy as loud as you can, and after about an hour of that and a couple of tequila shots you might be able to sleep.

Or you can do something about the profound inequities that are tearing the world apart and you can pick up your credit card and you can help.  Which is what a lot of people want to do, only we spend half our lives telling ourselves and each other that we can’t really affect anything so why bother making me look.

Back when I was reporting in a town that at the time was a really violent shithole, we got grief on the regular from  city fathers for tarnishing the town’s image with coverage of all the nastiness. I’ll never forget our editorial page editor’s response, and I’ve saved it on every computer I’ve had for more than a decade because she treated this plea for public relations with the blistering contempt it deserved:

One would like to hope a trio of corpses and a shotgun assault just a block from a festival might prompt a blunt civic response that would tell law-abiding residents the gang violence will be short-lived.

Such had not been the case since Burnham Schoolhouse exploded in gunfire a week ago or since a broken-down car meant a near death sentence on Michigan Street, a block away from the Grand Victoria casino.

There have been “planning sessions,” but “not enough time” at a council meeting to discuss the triple homicide.

There will be a public meeting tonight at which city officials will “share perspectives” on the violence. Oh, and there has been plenty of angst over how to fix the city’s image problem and more than a few complaints about this newspaper making too much of the violence.

We disagree.

Elgin doesn’t have an image problem and it doesn’t have a newspaper problem.

What it has is a corpse problem.

Reduce the number of corpses and stop the bloodshed outside our front doors and those image and newspaper problems will disappear.

The day that such carnage does not appear on the front page is the day this city has lost its long-running fight and we declare the gangs the winners.

Hide the reality of warfare and the refugee crisis, hide the cost of our firearms fetish and its attendant political paralysis, and all that happens is the cycle repeating itself: breaking news, shock, horror, whocouldaknowed, and we all go back to our breakfast cereal. The minimum those who say they are news organizations can do is not go along with the charade. It is not their job to help us get away with this.

There’s a poll at the end of that HuffPo piece on how people want traditional and social media to handle images of violence. Possibly there should be one on how people want people to handle the reality of violence, because if there’s nothing to see there won’t be any pictures.


3 thoughts on “Americans Divided on Whether to Look at Reality

  1. I agree with this in principle, but to be honest I avoid the shit out of these things because they are massive anxiety triggers, and I hate when autoplay, for instance, makes the choice for me. I can handle the text a lot more calmly.

    1. I’m with you, Luna. The pictures trigger anxiety. I can’t even read the details in stories about adults abusing and killing children, for I form my own images which stay with me for days. Of course, the media should have shown the photo once, but over and over? Even on Facebook it seemed every other FB friend posted the picture. Do they think I get all my news from their FB posts? So what are we going to do about the refugee crisis? We’re a large country, and we could accommodate many more people who flee the violence and hunger in their own countries. Although it’s heartbreaking to to see images and hear about drowned children and families sleeping on concrete, feeling sad, in itself, doesn’t accomplish a damned thing. What will we do? We don’t have the will to improve the lives of immigrants within our own borders, so what are the chances of a massive effort by the powers that be in the US to help refugees from the Middle East and Africa?

      And that’s not to mention our paralysis in passing and implementing laws to reduce gun violence. After seeing so many images, we become callused, and it’s just another violent day in America, the greatest country in the world, and we do nothing. So, about the images, it depends….

  2. Thank you A. I don’t watch teevee news much because of their soulless suckitude. I hate FM radio for sanitizing music (just heard Pink Floyd’s “Money” with no “Bullllshit” init) because it might hurt our ears or something.

    If you want to tiptoe around not offending people, the news business isn’t your business. And don’t try comedy, coz that won’t work either.

    Yeah, maybe young children shouldn’t see these things, then again, maybe they should, a warning for the parents seems proper. But for those who worry about the image of your town or state or party, that needs to be on a continuous loop shoved in their faces. Maybe Dick Cheney and Don Rumsfeld and Tom Friedman should be strapped down in a chair and shown this stuff over and over, and some other horrible videos, to remind them how much fun war and all of its tentacles really are.

    I’m thankful that I saw the video of the young woman that was shot by a sniper in the Egypt riots that toppled Mubarak. I’m a witness to her death, and I think about that and it reminds me about how fucking lucky we are in this country, and about how miserable and undeserving are those who think it’s okay to “kick some ass” or who think war and chaos is just a little bit untidy but nothing more, who think they and their beliefs are more important than the life of some young innocent woman.

    I can hear the voice of the woman who was trapped in the restaurant in the tower and talking on her cell phone to the 911 operator and it breaks my heart, that some stupid asshole made his beliefs more important than her life.

    So if we need to see more uncomfortable bullshit to get us off our asses, than we should. Like she said, we have a corpse problem. Stop killing people, and it will go away. And hiding it because it’s unpleasant and uncomfortable is the wrong way to fix it.

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