Monday, October 24, 2011

Lowering the Threshold; Diminishing Ourselves

The rising trend of people accepting publication of more gruesome images reached a new threshold with the death of Libyan dictator Gaddafi. His body was not yet cold when video and still images of his contorted and bloodied face flashed around the globe.
For Whom the Bell Tolls?
It used to be that publishing or broadcasting photos of the dead or dying was a news business taboo. There was some leeway: overall shots of indistinguishable people dead on a battlefield, or an unidentifiable body lying in the ash of the monumental Mount St. Helen’s volcanic eruption.
The news media has continually lowered the threshold. Remember the grainy photo five years ago of the hanging of Saddam Hussein? Now the bloody death images of Gaddafi further lower the threshold, and allow even more room for arguing that anything should be published.
A main argument for publishing such images is that they will get out to the public anyway, through the Internet and various social media. What a specious argument. Another is that lack of photographic evidence of the death of monsters such as Osama bin Laden leaves the question of whether he is really dead. Bull!
If we buy that argument, should we not see morgue photos of Clifford Olsen’s cancer-ridden body to prove that the monster who tortured and murdered children in British Columbia is really gone? Why not a close-up shot of serial killer Ted Bundy frying in the electric chair as proof that he would not be around to kill more?
In 99 per cent of the cases, Gaddafi’s included, there is nothing to gain, except sensationalism and ratings, in publishing death photos. Gaddafi’s death throe images do nothing to advance the world. The world is a bit better place because he is gone; but not because we see him dying.
Quite the opposite. Englishman John Donne (1572 - 1631) wrote: any man's death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind, and therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee."
Every person, even a mad dog like Gaddafi, deserves dignity at death. When we deprive someone of that dignity, we diminish ourselves.

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