Monday, December 10, 2007

Response to Horror

To me the paintings by Fernando Botero represented a more generalized description of the photographs of the soldiers torturing their prisoners. I would not say that I hated them but I'm not really sure how much I liked the paintings. Looking at them did not make me feel even close to how I felt looking at the photographs themselves. But I can understand how they would for others and that I think is extremely important. The idea of torture is one that is easy to overlook and ignore when it is not being thrown in your face and demonstrating it through art is a good way to force people to think about it.

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

What is interesting for me about the paintings is that it seems that the photographs were not as shocking to us as the paintings. We expect to see terrible things through digital media and it takes a painting to shock us. It is easy to skip over an image that we don’t consider art but if it is in a painting we have to consider it and that considering will bring the attention that Abu Ghraib deserves. It does not deserve to be pushed aside the way so many people hoped it would be. Violence has become a joke in entertainment and it takes the paintings to deny the joke and move the violence into a place where we aren’t distracted by the smiling faces of the torturer. The digital photographs of Abu Ghraib are unstoppable but they are different then the paintings done from those images because when the photographs were taken they weren’t intended as art they were intended as a memory and a trophy. All Fernando Botero did was take those photos and change them into something that he created and could control and the paintings do depict horror but they are looking to accomplish something very different from what the original photographs do. Because violence and sex are so prevalent in this digital age we tend to block things out and we are desensitized to the world around us. We have a filter on what we see of our society and our country. I would also agree to both Sontag and Zizek that because of this filter through which America sees its self that allowed for the excuses that followed the suffering of the photographs of Abu Ghraib prison camps. However we shouldn’t be able to use this digital age as an excuse. We are desensitized, violence and sex don’t shock like they used to but that is the time we live in and it doesn’t mean we should live in a state of unawareness being desensitized doesn’t mean we should ignore the grotesque. We are able to distinguish between the television and reality we just have to choose to do so. It seems that part of the United States problem with reality is the way the people sensor themselves they only want to see pictures of horror if in no way are Americans doing anything but being honorable. In the photograph of the falling man people refused to look and no one wanted to claim that man as one of their own because jumping suggested that his will to live wasn’t strong enough. No one wanted to imagine that their loved one was desperate like that in their last minutes. Just as no one wanted to imagine that American solders were torturing the very people we were supposed to protecting from such treatment.
Horror. With things like the tomb of the unknown soldier. attacks on u.s. soil. and basically anything else that has something to do with being unfamiliar with something is grounds to inspire shock fright, and horror. It as well is very depressing given that we have things dedicated to those who have fought for the nation and have been completely lost at war. As for the events in September, to be so horrific that one doesn’t even have to mention a date. year or that you can refer to it as 9/11 is horrific in itself, but that so much shock and so many of us experienced a feeling that has been felt around the world. War has been fought on U.S soil but never within the new times or our life times, which make it historical and burned into our minds. Yeah that wasn’t a war but it was an attack on people that had no involvement. When a soldier is killed its one thing but civilians were supposed to be neutral. Its simply a new era we entered. An era where anyone is fair game and anyone is enemy... Horrifying Eh?

Response to readings

As far as torture and photography go, I believe that Sontag asks an important question, "So, then, is the real issue not the photographs themselves but what the photographs reveal to have happened to ''suspects'' in American custody?" I think that this question can work on many different levels and situations. If you take out: "suspects" in American custody, and fill in your own blank you can see what I mean more clearly. In the situation with the prisoners of Abu Ghrai, I agree with Sontag, that the issue at hand is the photographs and what they reveal. These photographs were not taken for history or honorable documentation. They were taken as "trophies", like Sontag states. They were taken my American soldiers to show their friends and to poke fun at the prisoners. She states "as if the fault or horror lay in the images, not in what they depict" when talking about president Bush's response to these photographs. I feel as if many people feel this way about photographs of terror or horror, but in some cases it is not the photograph that is at fault. The "fault" lie in the real life, the situation that really did happen. That is my take on it anyways.

As informed by the article by Tom Junod, in the image of the Falling Man from 9-11 many people were shocked and appalled that this photograph was released to the public. I feel as this image should not have been sheltered or avoided, it was something that really happened, an aspect from a real life situation. I can see why people would have an issue with it, but just because something is shocking, in my opinion, does not mean it should be kept hidden.

Slavoj Zizek explores theories about the "real" and the "projected real" that I have often thought about. It is sometimes hard to feel real life as a shocking or phenomenal experience when we see these images depicting real life all around us, everywhere we go. In commercials, movies, video games, advertisements etc. It almost seems as if real life is no longer real. I was thinking about this lately with that new Sean Penn film, "Into the Wild" or whatever the name was, I have yet to actually see it. Anyways, I feel as if people no longer need to act on certain desires or impulses because it's so much easier to pay twelve dollars and sit and watch someone else doing the things that you thought of. With bigger and more important issues at hand, I feel as if this thought process works all the same. Take any of Michael Moore's films for instance. People often agree with his politics and concerns, everyone goes to see his films, but they never do anything! I am guilty of it too...I believe we all are. For some reason and for some people the world is easier to understand, easier to think about, just easier when your watching it on a screen.

In the
All three articles and even the podcast seemed to be dealing with the importance of media and its influence on the actor, the viewer, the artist, etc. Abu Ghraib began as a moment of torture. In a room full of people, prisoners were forced into pain and suffering. Then Abu Ghraib became the images produced in that moment. People all around the world began to understand the torture in terms of a few still images, filling in the blanks as each individual saw fit. The Bush administration carefully chose their words as they reinforced the [art] object as the moment instead of the representation of the moment. A discussion was formed and the image became an idea or a symbol of the war and U.S. occupation in Iraq. People contemplated the role of the military officials and (as Laqueur pointed out) whether or not the acts of torture were systemic. And finally, the discussion transformed into the painting, where the imagery is far removed from what it actually was. This snowball effect is the product of a situation where people were so shocked and bothered, that a continued large scale response occurs.

Susan Sontag brought up many interesting points about the photo objects themselves. The important point that, "the horror of what is shown in the photographs cannot be separated from the horror that the photographs were taken-- with the perpetrators posing, gloating, over their helpless captives." And that it becomes a much more common phenomenon when one considers the amount of digital pictures in circulation through email from soldier to soldier. Her citing of the Bush administration's outrage over the matter (mirrored in the panel discussion when the host quotes Rumsfeld as having said that the worst moment in his six year run was when the Abu Ghraib pictures became public) is so telling of the government's understanding of what is really going on vs. what we all should know.

I felt that Slavoj Zizek's writing about 9/11 and the government's utilization of our Hollywood induced paranoia was a very refreshing take on the played out and over dramatized event that occurred years ago. It border-lined on a conspiracy theory with its references to the Truman Show- where we realize late in life that our whole perception of reality was some sick pervert's way of getting ratings... or keeping us in a blissful naivete. He was brilliant for exposing the culture of fear that 9/11 so easily reinforced.

And the Falling Man article, in this context, gives insight into the power of editing (like the power of the US government to open all the letters that came home from WWII and delete any unwanted information as Sontag brought up). The power of the choice between each little negative or pdf file, that can change the world (or divide it). The exploit of the ridiculous search for who the falling man was exactly, and how knowing does not change the image at all.

The point is that it is the existence of the photographs in the public sphere that can change a public perception. They do not have to be around for long and they can be ripped to shreds by public speakers, but once they have been seen they are not forgotten. As Sontag wrote in On Photography, one does not exist until they have been photographed. In our culture, we allow ourselves to live happily unknowing, despite what people say. But once we have seen something in a photograph, it enters our media history, that we care so deeply about.

if it isn't happening to americans is it happening? or i guess a better question is 'is it torture if these people are "terrorists"? i guess thats how some people see it. wheres humanity? and in the case of the smiling soldiers... what are they getting at with their smiles? the bush quotes made me even more disappointed/embarrassed... for example "i want you to know when we talk about war, we talk about peace." is he kidding? action is irreversible. humiliating these people, and torturing them was the real terror. there is no remorse on the woman's face as she smiles dumbly at the camera while posing by a prisoner. sontag brings good points up, such as stepping around words we don't want to use, like the word torture. these photos were meant to be shown. grab your camera phone! its time for a lynching! what a world.
this was about the 'falling man' photo taken on 9/11. this basically centered around peoples reactions to this photo. either the disgust and hatred of this photo, mixed with trying to identify the man who is invariably frozen in mid-air forever. some people refused to think of the possibility that this man was their own loved one. this photo is haunting to many people, you can't quite get it out of your head. it is the struggle of wanting to identify this person, and not wanting to cross the line at the same time. when is asking too much? memory or exploitation?
big brother
i think we've all had that paranoid "wow, i wonder if my life is the truman show." moment. zizek explores the real and the fantasy in this essay. zizeck writes about the way americans think attacks like 9-11 wont happen to us. they happen to other countries.. he talks about the difference between real and television. how americans are always waiting for something to happen like it does on tv, a fantasy. but when it happens they deny it. we're so blindsided by hollywood, and the appeal of the unreal.


Within the three readings I found an underlying connection in the idea of a guarded American ideology that is bleeding internally. In Zizek's Welcome the Desert of the Real, the symbolic function the WTC tragedy plays in the American psyche is that of materializing a controlled internal paranoia. He refers to it as a "return to the Real" which is interesting to me because I think that even today, six years later, America is still resistant towards accepting a patriot soil that is and can be tainted with political and religious aggression from the outside. I don't think we have moved to "A thing like this should not happen ANYWHERE!" and I don't see it happening anytime soon. With Sontag, I think the idea of the American "Sphere," as Zizek calls it, can also be attributed to our nation's infantile obsession with deflecting responsibility for its actions. Again, this untainted, unequivocally pure Christian nation can't see it's own "evil doings," as Mr. Bush so lovingly phrases, and it's not that they won't see but that they can't, which is perfectly summed up by Sontag when she wrote, "The administration's initial response was to say that the president was shocked and disgusted by the photographs -- as if the fault or horror lay in the images, not in what they depict." This deflection of responsibility is parallel with the deflection to evidence of violence in 9/11. I feel that people have a compulsion to document every aspect of their lives, the use of Myspace, blogs and the countless digital snapshots of everyday life, are evidence. Richard Drew's photograph is evidence people couldn't see, because it was a personalization of tragedy. It validated the fantastical act of outside aggression on American soil. I believe that the The Falling Man image was one of the many ridges on the blade that struck America's ideology, a protected sphere that was not ripped open but slowly will bleed out one day.

Monday, December 3, 2007

Response to articles

While reading Regarding the Torture of Others by Susan Sontag, Welcome to the Desert of the Real" by Slavoj Zizek, and The Falling Man by Tom Junod, I kept thinking about both de-individuation and the desensitization of Americans. In Susan Sontag's article, she discusses the horrors shown in the images of Abu Ghraib, while describing the smiling faces of American military, proud and unashamed of the images they were taking part in. Torture is something that is all too common in wars, where military personal are told that they must defeat the "enemy". The "enemy" or "other" is then de-individuated, and is labeled as evil. The hooding of prisoners has been condemned by the UN for good reason. Theories of de-individuation show that when a person becomes less aware of their own or other's identity, they begin to act in ways that are not usually characteristic of them, and also in ways that are socially unacceptable. President Bush's choice of vocabulary, and refusal to use the word "torture" when discussing Abu Ghraib, de-individuates the act by trying to force the public to see it in different terms. By using tactics of fear, the government has taken away any human characteristics of these prisoners, and our "enemies" by labeling them as evil-doers or terrorists. How can one person be, "ruthlessly self-sacrificing AND cowards, cunningly intelligent AND primitive barbarians" as Savoj Zizek sums up our governments description of the other? Rather than trying to fight terrorists, we should be asking ourselves why are people acting out in this way? What has our country done to push someone to these extremes?

Tom Junod discusses the falling man photo taken by Richard Drew during 9/11 of an unknown man falling from the twin towers. The image is initially described as a man who is not afraid of death, and someone who can be seen as a hero. This description seems to change when a reporter was given the job of finding out the falling man's identity. Once the reality set in, and witnesses of the 9/11 media aftermath began to realize that each falling person (who were once described to a child as possibly birds flying) actually had an identity, the perception of these images seemed to drastically change. Knowing the identity of a person jumping from one of the towers distorts thoughts and hopes of a loved one's last minutes on earth. It raises questions that we discussed in class: Is it ethically acceptable to show a person's last moments before death? What one person may see as a monument to an individual's life may seem like an insult to another. Photography allows for actual depictions of a person that can later be identified, contrasting the resemblances that can only be questioned when found in drawing, painting and sculpture.

Much how a cartoon desensitizes a child to violence, Hollywood can hamper an adults ability to recognize violence as something that is real. As Zizek mentions, the US finally received a taste of what the rest of the world has been experiencing for a long time. Until the attack was acted out on our own soil, it was difficult for many Americans to understand the real impact of violence and war.

When looking at actual images of torture, death, and war, it is important to remember that these photographs represent reality. The people in the images are real people, not cartoon or Hollywood characters who have been created to be destroyed by "the good side". This task can be difficult when living in a country that uses media to de-individuate the other and desensitize the audience. As a viewer, we must recognize the similarities between "us" and the "other", and try to find the connection of the two in order to realize that actually we are all a part of 'us".

article summaries

Regarding the Torture of Others by Susan Sontag
Sontag’s article is dealing with imagery of the war. She rests solely on the power of words in the world, where "our culture of spectatorship neutralizes the moral force of photographs of atrocities". The article shows the demeanor on how the photographs reveal numerous political issues that are about both their degenerative nature as well as their possible benefit in creating a demand for social change.

The Falling Man by Tom Junod
What stuck out in my mind most when reading this article is the quote that reads “they exploited a man's death, stripped him of his dignity, invaded his privacy, turned tragedy into leering pornography. Most letters of complaint stated the obvious: that someone seeing the picture had to know who it was.” I don’t think that is what this photograph is. The identity of the man is not what comes to mind first when reading this article, but how he is a representation of what happened on 9/11. Something else that caught my attention most when reading this is how this photograph is deceiving. The falling man looks as if he is falling gracefully, straight down, when in reality, he is plummeting, out of control.

Welcome to the Desert of the Real by Slavoj Zizek
In this essay, Zizek provides his interpretation on the cultural and ideological insinuations of the terrorist attacks on the United States that took place on September 11, 2001. He compares what the American fantasy would be to different films like The Matrix, or The Truman Show, because these are movies about people living in a world they think is real but truly is not. He explains that “desert of the real” is the awareness that we live in a bubble-like reproduction of the world that creates the idea that an evil force is “threatening us all the time with total destruction”.


The Sontag article was about the photographs that had emerged from the prison in Abu Ghraib. She discussed how our politicians would dance around terms like “torture” and not address the actual issues that were present behind the photos and were only “outraged” by the photos themselves. She makes comparisons to lynchings, Rwanda, and other places where torture has taken place. She also talks about what kind of place America really is and that we basically get off on torturing others like in video games and frat hazings, etc., and how it seems to be incorporated into our everyday lives. In other times like the Holocaust the torturers were rarely photographed next to those being tortured (unlike the Abu Ghraib photos). Also, she talks about how digital photography makes these images so much more accessible, and that every soldier has a digital camera, and how editing has a lot to do with what we think is really happening. (Like cropping and how many images the press released cropped out how many soldiers were actually present during these times.) Digital cameras also mean that these images wont stop and are being constantly taken and will continue to leak out of the war.

Zizek’s piece was about the attacks on 9-11 and the repercussions they had on American mentality. Americans seemed to be in a state of mind that was “unreal”, and he compares this state of mind to the movie The Matrix, or The Truman Show. But after 9-11, American’s suddenly woke up to the notion that this really could happen to them, and now have experienced what people around the world have experienced every day for all of history (and continue to today.) He compares this to other Hollywood films, and that 9-11 just seemed to affirm American’s destructive fantasies. He also points out that things like this do happen in the US every day in the forms of crime against other Americans, but we don’t tend to see it that way or notice it.

The Junod article was about the “Falling Man” picture taken on 9-11. It went over all the mass media surrounding the image: where it was printed, how it outraged people, the debate whether it should be shown, as well as other art being made around 9-11 and the controversy around it too. I couldn’t help but think about the other two articles and their implications about Americans and their voyeurism when it comes to violence. But this one seemed to be much more of a “train wreck” scenario: we know we shouldn’t look but we can’t help it—as opposed to the other articles where we just get off on it. The article also goes over the search for the identification of the person in the photograph, and how many people who’s son/father/brother/friend it may be are curious as to whether it is but none of them want to identify him or even want him to be the man in the photo. Junod debates whether this image is ethical or not and basically recaps all the debate around whether it is or not and whether the man should even be identified.

Comments on the three texts

The text about the Falling Man is an incredibly powerful story. It's hard to stay focused and think critically while reading it. A couple of things comes to mind right away though. One, no we really don't need to know who the man is. It's like the Tomb of the Unknown soldier. He represents all the people that died that day, not only from jumping, and he reminds us about the horror that affects us still. Secondly, as I'm reading the examples of other people in history who've been shown to the public in horrible condition, such as Robert Kennedy or the Vietnamese girl after the napalm attack, it occurs to me that maybe people reacted so horrified about these pictures, or the sculpture of the tumbling woman, because it was too close to us. If you lived in NY then, as I did, you knew people who were affected. Even if you lived elsewhere. 9/11 killed common people and at least I felt it could have been me. I assume that wasn't the case with Robert Kennedy or the girl in Vietnam.

Here we're talking about censor from officials, not from the public, because the photographs are deemed to have a negative impact on the war in general. How can you argue with what Susan Sontag says. Of course the problem is not in the pictures. The problem is what allowed the situation to evolve to a point where these pictures could be taken.

The text by Slavoj Zizek obviously has a direct connection to Susan Sontag's text on torture as he's pointing out that reality also exist outside the U.S. and what happens here is a direct derivative on what happens elsewhere. The Iraq would by any account have increased rather than decreased the chance that we will see something similar to 9/11 happening on U.S. soil.

It also goes back to the pictures that from 9/11 and why it's deemed unacceptable to publish pictures of the jumpers. The picture of the Falling Man makes it too real to bear.