Political Outrage, 'Moral Shock,' & Images
"Protest groups that turn from loud to aggressive tend to draw on at least two other elements, researchers say. The first is what sociologists call a “moral shock” — a specific, blatant moral betrayal that, when most potent, evokes personal insults suffered by individual members, said Francesca Polletta, a sociologist at the University of California, Irvine . . .Pointing to "the second element" - that political protest thrives with a focal target - is a platitude. However, the claim regarding "the first element" - about the impact of images - is less so and, I think, potentially important. Here are some obvious questions, though: Can images actually convey 'moral shock'? And, do images of any sort "speak for themselves"? I am dubious about both claims. The latter seems to me to be simply false. The former is at least questionable. But the theme is worth pursuing.
This shock may derive from an image: the horrific posters of tortured animals published by animal rights groups, or of aborted fetuses by anti-abortions organizations, which speak for themselves. It can also reside in a “narrative fragment,” like the Rodney King beating, which triggered a riot all on its own.
Perhaps the best available candidate for such an outrage today is the Wall Street bailout, Dr. Polletta said. “The message there is rich people being rewarded for bad behavior,” she said. “That’s going to hit home, especially if you’ve lost a job, or know someone who has.”
The second element is a specific target clearly associated with the outrage. A law to change. A politician to remove. A company to shut down. “If the target is too big, too vague — say, the health care bill, which means many things — well, then the anger can be hard to sustain,” Dr. Polletta said. “It gets exhausting.”"