On The Pleasure of Flinching
"While mainstream networks were still fretting over whether to show flag-draped coffins on the nightly news, wrestling internally over the complicated ethics of embedded journalism, and creating ever more extravagant banners and catchphrases, camera phones quietly and permanently altered the journalistic landscape."And the upshot of the essay by Nicholas Sautin at Guernica from which I lifted this sentence is that the pervasive presence of digital technology and the resulting spread via the Internet of amateur images made in war zones and other terrains of atrocity have more or less corroded whatever "ethics of shock and incomprehension" may have exited in earlier eras. But Sautin arrives at the same destination as his predecessor Susan Sontag - the moralist who bemoaned the lack of a settled 'ecology of images.' For both the glut of images means that no responsibility can be placed on viewers; and hence all we can expect is political complacency.
My objection is simple. Political complacency, not just about distant wars in exotic places, but about mayhem and suffering and hardship right here in our neighborhoods exists independently of images and their effects. There is no 'right to look' that we might earn. Like Sontag, Sautin is wailing at the representations not the actualities, refusing to see that the two are separable. This is simply more hand-wringing; another attempt to blame media rather than ourselves.