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Wednesday, 3 September 2014

Death is all around

I reviewed Christopher Bangert's War Porn for Emaho over the summer. It's a great book with one of those uncut pages designs - I didn't cut the pages open because I've got too many books with badly-cut pages and it's starting to annoy me.

The basic premise of War Porn is why do we not show pictures of dead people. The problem with this is that I'd spent the previous week looking at pictures of dead people - a lot were historical pictures, but they were still pictures of dead people (and here is another really interesting perspective on War Porn from Paul Fox).

And this year, there seem to be more dead people all over the place; dead girls who were raped and lynched in India, dead Palestinian children who were killed out of spite it seems, and dead passengers on the plane tht was shot down over Ukraine.

There's more death around and there seems to be a concerted effort to show death more, especially on Time's Lightbox (now edited by Olivier Laurent, formally of the BJP).

As if to confirm this effort, Fred Ritchin wrote a piece about the showing of death on yesterday's Lightbox and the hidden contracts that are contained within it.

But still, I wonder. I'm not sure anything has changed. These things go in circles. I've seen a dead Gaddafi (see above) on television, and Saddam Hussein being hung and we can see murdered Palestinian children or Indian girls, or watch journalists being beheaded in Syria, but in mainstream circles there are still the same taboos. Will we see dead American children or soldiers on Time Lightbox or in the New York Times, will we see dead British soldiers in the Guardian or Daily Mail? And if it's not OK to show American journalists getting beheaded, why was it OK to show Gaddafi's body being dragged around?

So death is all around when it is people who are deemed fit to be seen dead, but we are sheltered from seeing our own dead. When their time comes, we're not going to see Obama or Cameron's dead faces smeared across the TV. And when it comes to sparing our feelings, then blurring and blobbing will still be applied to the faces of those deemed innocent  (and if you have ever wondered why television producers putting a grey blob over a dead person's face show's respect, read Robert Fisk here).

So what exactly are the rules about showing the poor and distant dead versus showing our rich and Western dead. And are those rules changing? And if they are, why are they? And if they aren't, why aren't they?

Oh, and what's it like in countries outside Europe and North America, and on mainstream social media? Completely different rules apply, but that's a post for another day.


Stan B. said...

Welcome back! Every summer I spend long weeks (re)learning to live without... until you crash upon the scene yet again with a flurry of posts to catch up with.

Look forward to seeing/hearing Mr. Bangert this Sept. in Photoville Brooklyn.

It's simplistic, I know, but showing dead American/British soldiers tends to shatter the video game paradigm that war is fun and heroic and... fun. Only the bad (brown) guys are dumb enough to get killed with blood and guts a poppin' as action packed, visceral proof of their inherent inferiority.

Have every recruitment office decorated with posters of recently disabled vets going through therapy. Let's show kids just how much we honor those who've served. Chances are they won't recognize many of them when they walk around or trip over them on the street...

colin pantall said...

Thanks Stan - that's exactly what the recruitment offices should do - he says at the end that it's not the end of the conversation... so we'll see how it develops. Will we ever get beyond the visceral proof stage? I doubt it.