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?