The limitations placed on exposure to powerful images that might stir our deepest emotions would make a modern day Dr. Goebbels green with envy. The destruction of CIA torture tapes is but one example. We've only seen a fraction of the infamous Abu Ghraib photos, pictures taken by those carrying out the atrocities. I'm not the first person to identify the grotesque parallel between the powerful images of police dogs unleashed on Iraqi prisoners and Nazi SS guards using attack dogs to guard death camp inmates. We know the Pentagon forbids media coverage of the remains of soldiers departing Ramstein Air Base in or coffins returning to Landstule regional medical center in Germany, which routinely receives horribly maimed soldiers from Iraq is off-limits for photos and reporters are closely monitored by military escorts. [...]I have to say that while I think this question is crucially important, the analysis here seems overly simple. In the first place, our emotions are funny, not always reliable, things and it is unclear that empathy is what we need in politics - outrage surely, solidarity yes, empathy probably not. Our outrage and solidarity are both tied up with reason too. So the psychological issues at stake here are remarkably complex. In fact, I don't even think solidarity is an emotion.
And therein resides both an intractable indictment and a vexing question. ... We know that photographers are routinely banned from the battle zone while others are pressured into self-censorship. But we might speculate on the powerful impact such images would evoke within American society, how our now well documented evolutionary and biological capacity for empathy might be engaged to pressure policymakers.
Having said all that, even if we might identify plausible motivational and cognitive reactions to what John Berger calls "photographs of agony" there remains the massive political problem of directing and coordinating outrage in politically productive ways. I am glad that the author of this piece - Gary Olson - has put the issues on the table. But I think the analysis and discussion still has a considerable distance to go.
Labels: Media Politics