05 May 2011

Take My Picture

So, continuing yesterday's conversation... there are some good points out there as to why the administration should release post-mortem photos of one certain recently-deceased asshat. The points brought to my attention are so good, in fact, that I am no longer certain that I hold to my previous idea that it's a gloriously bad move to release said photos.

Not flip-flopping. Not jumping on any bandwagons. I am legitimately conflicted.

Yesterday I said that releasing the pictures would serve no purpose other than to satisfy bloodlust in a grieving country or further fuel the conspiracy theories. The international repercussions of such a decision also give one  pause. However, there are a few things that make me wonder if perhaps I don't give my countrymen-and-women enough credit. Perhaps, dare I say, I am wrong.

A good friend of mine going by the alias "Hoss" commented on yesterday's post saying:
I don't know if I can explain the rage that I feel. It's certainly not something I've nurtured or fed. But I grew up in the shadow of those towers, have uncles and cousins that worked there on that day, and watched while madmen destroyed them with fire and blind hatred and perversion in the name of God. I shed not one tear of remorse for the death of the author of that tragedy. And I DO want to see the body. Not to gloat, not to prove 'who gets the credit', not out of some twisted nationalistic pride.

I want a photo. I want something to scream at, and spit upon, and drown in rancid bacon grease, tear to shreds, and feed to a fire.

I want to be done with this rage, and I don't know how to let it go.
While worrying about people out there using these photos for political gain, fear-mongering and shit-storming, I forgot something crucial. Some out there may need to see the visual proof in order to heal. Some may need some physical totem to, as Hoss said, scream at. For some, these gruesome images may be a much needed catharsis.

So, last night whilst perusing Huffington Post, I saw a link reporting 3 gory photos from the compound. These were published by Reuters. (WARNING: These photos are extremely graphic depictions of dead men.) I looked. I saw pictures of real corpses, not just dummies or actors. Looking at those--then promptly going to Zooborns.com for some soul balm--I wonder if sterilizing our media to exclude this is more harmful than allowing people to make up their own minds of what to click. I have provided the link to those pictures here because I try to treat you, my readers, like grown ups. I trust your judgement. I'm wondering, now, if maybe our leaders should offer the same courtesy.

I found an article by photojournalist Deborah Copaken Kogan speaking to that. She offers her opinion that to "sanitize photos is to distort history". She talks about her experiences of going from life as an American "steeped in movie violence" to witnessing and recording death on a very real scale. It's an informative read and I encourage you to check it out.

Another series of good points was made on last nights episode of The Daily Show. Jon Stewart had this to say:

Now, I agree with Mr. Stewart that photos will not end the debate that this man is dead. People will say it's 'shopped or staged or whatever... photos will not definitively solve anything. Also, I agree that the Muslim world is used to such. I think Stewart's juxtaposition of an Al Jazeera clip of a dead body with the phrase, "and sometimes they don't even have to see it on tv. Just look out the window," is particularly haunting and illustrates the gap between our cultures.

We are lucky in this country. We don't see this in the streets every day. We don't see the aftermath of what we politicize. War? We ignore the visceral details. We don't see the maimed or murdered civilians caught in our crosshairs. We don't see our troops struggling to cope with what they've seen and done in the name of Freedom. We don't show that stuff. Sure, we'll watch hours of violence and crime dramas...but we know that's fake. In the end, we know that this week's dead hooker on CSI got up off the table and went to audition another day. (I admit fully that it's Thursday and tonight my friends and I will gather for our weekly dinner and CSI night. Yes, I'm still trying to figure out why we always seem to be eating during the autopsy scenes.)

But we're lucky that we can turn it on or off at our leisure. We're lucky that it's not something we see in the streets. I can't find an argument with Stewart's idea that maybe we should show pictures of war so that we don't confuse it with video games. In fact, I am hard pressed to find any issue with his stance, Hoss's or that of Deborah Copaken Kogan.

Maybe the problem is that we, as a society, have stripped death of its dignity. We've forgotten, on a large scale, just what we ask of our soldiers when we send them to kill. This isn't Call of Duty 4. There is no save game or option to turn it off. The bodies are not pixels. We have forgotten just what it means to take a life. Maybe we should release the photos so that we don't forget what we're doing when we go to war.

I don't know the answer.

What do you think?


Jeff said...

I know that photos wouldn't make me believe he is dead, nor would the lack of photos convince me he's not. There is nothing, no photo, no body, no act of justice, nothing, that will ever clean the stain on my soul when I watched the towers fall. It is there forever. I doubt it is much different for others.

Sweet Pea said...

I wonder if living with that kind of violence makes it easier to commit violence yourself.

I think that we, in the US are desensitized to IMAGES of violence and death but we are SUPER sensitive to it in person. We have people who brag about kill counts in Modern Warfare 2 but can't even stand the sight of real blood when they cut their own fingers.

I think this is one of the reasons why we have so many game players but far fewer members of the military. We have lots of people who want to engage in acts of violence but only if they don't REALLY have to commit those acts on live, actual human beings.
What happens to someone who doesn't have the distance of a TV screen or a video game? Does it make it easier to get involved in violence and killing yourself or does seeing first hand the effects of a bullet make it harder to even pick up a gun?

I don't know the answer- I can only ask the question.

And it's not the only question to ask here. There are vast cultural divides that make it hard for us to truly understand the motivation to ram a plane into a building or strap a bomb to your own chest and blow up a market of women and children.

And our culture, where we're willing to sacrifice thousands of men and women- 6,022 US service persons as of this moment- to avenge the roughly 3000 that died on 9/11. They say a part of revenge is being willing to hurt yourself to hurt someone else. And we are hurting ourselves. 6,022 dead, 33,023 wounded- and that’s not counting the THOUSANDS of civilian casualties and wounded.

We are blinding ourselves with revenge and it’s only making things worse.

I am SO DAMN GLAD that Bin Laden is dead. It makes me sick how glad I am, how happy. I feel guilty and I don’t, all at the same time. But I keep thinking, how many people have to die for this? How many lines do we have to cross, as a nation and as individuals, before we are satisfied?

And how many people, civilians in Iraq and Afghanistan, are going to look out their window and see the dead body of a friend or a loved one and feel like they can do nothing less than pick up a gun and try to avenge that death? And once they do, it starts all over again.

- Al

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