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".

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