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September 13, 2006



And yet Americans consume copious amounts of fictional violence and absorb nightly doses of imaginary carnage through our entertainment media. It is almost as if our culture strives for verisimilitude in our violent games and film and yet abhors images of the real thing. Which is the greater obscenity, I wonder?

Your comment about images of the dead is one I've been mulling over as well, John. Images of burned corpses, mutilated execution victims, flag drapped coffins and dead children are inherently political. One does not photograph and publish such things to no purpose. We tend to discuss the responsibilities of the publishers - be they Al-Jazeera or any other media outlet - but not of the viewers, yet viewer response is absolutely the heart of the matter.

Do we lose our resolve to "stay the course", as some Bush administration supporters contend, if we take a hard look at the impact of this war on civilians and our soldiers? Or do these images steel our resolve, as apparently Alexander Gardner's photographs of Antietam did for those on the Union homefront? And can we meaningfully discuss the conduct of war if we do not look directly at its costs and casualties?

John Burgess

This post reminds me of an issue that's been running through my head for the past several years: Images of the Dead and Their Use/Abuse.

Have you noticed how certain cultures have no apparent problem in using images of the dead to make political points, while others--for a variety of reasons--abstain?

As far as visual imagery goes, 9/11 was sterile and antiseptic. There are only two pictures (of the recovery of the body of Fr. Mychal Judge from the WTC) that actually show the body of a person killed that day. And while there was media coverage of those who jumped or fell from the towers on 9/11, by 9/12 they were deemed "too upsetting". One still photo of that day, now known as "Falling Man" has become iconic, perhaps because it is the only one every seen.

Otherwise, there is no visual record of bodies, blood, body parts. Those who died are invisible to the public at large.

Contrast that with the use (or abuse, if you prefer) of the images of the dead in Palestine, or Lebanon, or Afghanistan. Pictures that are truly grotesque (by our lights) are telecast and printed on the front pages of newspapers. What we consider to be an "abnormal fascination with death," generally relegated to "creeps" who seek autopsy photos, are clearly not seen that way everywhere.

This isn't just a "Muslim thing" or an "Arab thing", or even a "political thing". Newspapers in India will run a two-page spread showing the mangled, half-eaten bodies of those killed by (presumably) apolitical tigers. A full page of photos of the charred bodies found in a burnt-out hospital are considered suitable fare.

Americans, on the whole, clearly don't like to see the bodies of dead civilian casualties of war, particularly dead children. We don't even see the bodies of those killed in overtly political acts against us. Other cultures, however, greatly energize large publics with such photos.


I share that opinion of "Passion".

It's nice to hear from you again, Genevieve. My very best wishes go to your family - you've been in my thoughts.


You've posted about some things that are similar to the reasons I did not go to see Mel Gibson's "Passion of the Christ" movie.

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