November 21, 2007

Visual Comm at NCA

I attended one of the Visual Communication panels in NCA last week and I was enthralled by one of the topics that were discussed. I thought this would be a nice platform to share it with everyone. I don’t think there were many visual communication panels presented in the NCA, something I was sorry to see. However this one panel on “Atrocity images, cultural trauma and rhetorical ambivalence” was enlightening. One of the speakers was Barbie Zelizer and her topic- “To Show Or Not: The Hanging of Saddam Hussein.”

Zelizer bases her argument on the traumatic impact of atrocity images upon cultural memory and she discusses the role of media in the creation of rhetorical ambivalence. After Saddam Hussein’s death, the official video released by the Iraqi government, across the mid-east and US after the hanging through late Dec 29 and Dec 30 was a tame and soundless one. It was the image of a man who was rightfully punished. There were no sounds that accompanied the image, the only voice was that of the British news anchor of SKY news that accompanied the video. The footage stopped right before the real hanging. The matter would have ended peacefully there but with the sudden presentation of a Second footage in Arab website and Google videos on Dec 30th changed the issue completely. It looked like an amateur mobile-phone video, and the images were shocking. If one watches the second video closely, it is not "mute" like the first one. It shows the nasty and loud name-calling and taunting that happened seconds before the former dictator was finally killed. It is a loud scene. This was aired on CNN on the 30th of December.

Through a point of simulation (I know I am getting obsessed with it) the effect was dichotomous. The audience was already on the plane of the hyperreal, the real being eradicated. However there was the second video, suddenly cropping up everywhere to deny the reality presented in the first footage. Zelizer now problematizes on the stance that the official media took towards this second footage. It could not be denied since it was practically everywhere. Her entire paper was based on how the news media reacted to the new video- the problems regarding airing or not airing the new footage. I was wondering what you guys have to say about the problems faced by the media regarding such situations. Is the mass media as powerful as it is perceived? What stance should or would the mass media take under such conditions when a second “hyperreality” is also prevalent?


JK said...

Is this video footage accessible through the internet?
I completely believe that the mass media is as powerful as it is perceived. I also agree with the media's hesitation and confusion when this hyperreal footage was released. I think that in many situations, the media is the only way that the public is aware of and able to participate in an event. Therefore, I believe that the media is largely responsible for how the public will perceive and understand a situation. In some instances, 911 for example, images are irrelevant and can be potentially harmful. When images were released of bodies falling from the twin towers, I feel as though that was an irresponsible decision made by the media. In circumstances where the public was an active participant in an event, and already has an understanding and connection, exploiting images for the mere use of entertainment should be condemned. However, in circumstances that include a war where the public is an outside participant, the media has a responsiblity to ensure our knowledge and understanding of a situation. Guarding or shading the public from reality should not be acceptable.
However, I do believe that an introduction and a careful plan should be thought out in order to prepare the public for an image or video that is about to be released. I think it should be an option to experience the hyperreal, not a requirement, but it should at least be an option. I think the media was correct in this situation (if I'm understanding this correctly) to be hesitant and fearful of the public's reaction. The public trusts the media to guide them through experiences that will indirectly affect their lives. I understand that people are concerned with the harmful psychological effects that these images may trigger, which is why I believe the media needs to release such information in a responsible manner.
I definitely believe that the mass media is as powerful as its perceived, but I think the media needs to realize that although the public trusts them to release information, there are still means in which the public can obtain information that the media attempts to hide. And with that understanding, the media should take responsibility in preparing the public for any images that potentially will be released.

Meg said...

I agree with JK and Medea, nicely goes back to what Dr. C posed to me after my post on the Falling Man...What is our moral obligations to such images and to the public??