I am finding something massively paradoxical and complexly wrong with our Image Culture
, our blissfully mediated age.
For instance, the by-line in promos for The Day After Tomorrow reads: ‘Contains extended scenes of peril
.’ Because, one assumes, we need to be protected from unexpectedly witnessing danger and mayhem without adequate psychological preparation. We need to be inoculated from scenes of death and people dying. Our entertainment seeks to protect us, paradoxically, much like the Jackass disclaimers tempt kids to do exactly the same stunts at home. We go and see disaster films precisely because they contain peril and mayhem. Such disclaimers act as a sanction in parent-friendly language, they gives us the feel-good option to choose morally, should we be offended by peril.
Yet, on the other hand, we tolerate images of torture and dead Iraqis without much of a shudder. There is of course enough distraction
with fancy weapons and slick coverage and spin, enough reduction of Iraqis to ‘the enemy’ to make it all justifiable in terms of mediation. Torture was fine for Guantanamo detainees, so it’s fine for Iraqis no matter how innocent they are. Just another way we buy into the hubris of the US invasion and the idea of US superiority, just as we unquestioningly consume the US frame and presentation of the conflict. (eg questioning the US line means siding with the terrorists, any terrorists).
Also: the regular incredulity
that greets the latest images from Iraq, cf the questioning of authenticity that met similar pictures of British soldiers in action. As though, this has to be enemy propaganda, we could never be this cruel, this tortuous. We have to deny the possibility of image-reality, of the real import and the wider context. Like the video of the bombed Iraqi wedding — was it really that wedding, was it really the same keyboard player, the same clothes etc? Could it not be? This is second guessing of the worst kind. It is good to question media imagery, but don’t stop at Iraq. Question the reality of Bush, Blair et al, question the whole train ride all the way to the top.
Also: the routine sanitisation
of presentation, the suppression of images of dead US soldiers. Protecting us from reality again and fostering the spirit of denial which so many seem to enjoy, notably George W (who probably needs more protection than most). Thumbs up, goofy smile, leading the cheer at pep rallies; there are no problems in Iraq, there is only progress. This can only be stretched so far — to the point where the glaring inconsistency of the image-reality in Iraq can no longer be covered by Bush’s inane babble or the arrogant spin of his hawks, till the real line between media spin and reality snaps like a rude awakening.
For philosophers: it’s the Desert of the Real, or the Other that is Us already. But for me, always, it has to be about the people. We should never lose track of the real human loss, the individual human lives, that the images gloss over so easily. This is never the domain of perilous entertainment, but of sorrow, and an absence of justice.