Warning: Graphic images below the fold. NSFW. Strong trigger warning re: graphic depictions of violence, abuse, etc.
Here, we go again. Why does it seem, lately, that a significant portion of the country sounds a lot like our three-year-old every time he sees me looking at something I my iPhone: “Let me see! I wanna see!”
It doesn’t matter what there is to see, or whether it’s something we should see. I doesn’t matter if we know what we’re seeing. It doesn’t even matter whether it matters if we see it. There’s something to see, and we just gotta see it.
So of course, having learned that there are pictures of Osama bin Laden’s corpse, it’s become the hottest “must see” piece of GWOT “war porn.”
I knew this is where we were headed when I read that President Obama and several cabinet members watched the raid on bin Laden’s compound and the takedown of Osama himself in realtime, probably via the Navy SEAL helmet that transfer sound and video.
Sound and video? That meant there were pictures, at the very least, and probably sound and video too. I figured it was only a matter of time before that familiar refrain started up again. “Let me see! Let me see! I wanna see!”
I was right on both counts. The White House received three sets of photos, including: a gory photograph of bin Laden’s body — complete with massive open head wound — at a hangar upon being brought back to Afghanistan, before the burial at sea, as well as photos of other bin Laden family members shot at the compound. And sure enough the “Let me see!” chorus has started. Sarah Palin is whining on Twitter, “But you gotta let us see! You just gotta!” Senators are embarrassing themselves, passing around a fake “Osama death pic” on their Blackberrys, and then having to issue statements that it might not have been real thing.
Why? Because we just wanna see! We just gotta see! Fortunately, president Obama is stepping to the role of the “adult in the room.” He’s decided against releasing the photo.
Really. Haven’t see seen enough yet?
After the Tucson, AZ, shooting that left six people dead and nineteen wounded, including Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, we learned that video of the shooting existed. Then as now, the big question was whether it should be released. Should we see it? Why should we see it?
I was against it then.
I tend to agree. I don’t personally want to see it. And I’m not sure what value there is in showing it outside of a courtroom, where it might be presented as evidence against the shooter.
First, there are the families to consider. They’ve been through enough without having a video of their loved-one’s being shot — and killed, for six families — going viral and rocketing all over the internet. I can’t imagine dealing with the possibility of coming across something like that online, let alone knowing that it’s gone viral and is being viewed by millions of people. It could only serve to worsen their pain unnecessarily.
Second, and perhaps this is cynical of me, but I’m not sure that it would produce the results Tomasky initially suggested. I don’t think the violence in video would have any real impact. We’re already so desensitized to violence and numb to the pain of others that I can’t imagine this video would cause much shock or outrage, let alone reflection.
Violent video games and movies make people numb to the pain and suffering of others, according to a research report published in the March 2009 issue of Psychological Science.
The report details the findings of two studies conducted by University of Michigan professor Brad Bushman and Iowa State University professor Craig Anderson.
The studies fill an important research gap in the literature on the impact of violent media. In earlier work, Bushman and Anderson demonstrated that exposure to violent media produces physiological desensitization—lowering heart rate and skin conductance — when viewing scenes of actual violence a short time later. But the current research demonstrates that violent media also affect someone’s willingness to offer help to an injured person, in a field study as well as in a laboratory experiment.
Thus, we’re already a culture in which some of us are more likely to step over the blood of a dying stabbing victim (pausing long enough to take a picture), watch a rape without trying to stop it or calling the police (meanwhile taking pictures and inviting others to watch the fun), or record — and share — video of a crash victim instead of trying to help (even when its your job). President Obama recently called us to “sharpen our instincts for empathy,” but instead of creating a culture of empathy, we’re nearing a point of becoming empathically impaired instead of empathically enhanced. Now empathy is a “buzzword” for “liberalism,”, and a concept that has no place in government anymore (if ever).
And, no, I don’t think factoring that the violence in the video is real and unscripted would change that. The phenomenon of “war porn” and its popularity on the internet suggests that it might have more entertainment value than educational value, to some
You can add to the list above the McDonald’s employee who watched a transgender woman being assaulted, and recorded the video on his cell phone instead of calling for help. (Or, I dunno, trying to stop it maybe?)
Again, haven’t we seen enough?
And why do we want to see it? It’s funny, when you think about the pictures we don’t want to see. The Pentagon censored the images of the Iraq war dead returning to Dover Air Force Base. It took a lawsuit to get them released.
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There’s an irony here that will be lost some Americans who don’t “do” irony since 9/11. The operation that killed Osama bin Laden took place just a few days after the seventh anniversary of our first glimpse of the pictures from Abu Ghraib.
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We still haven’t seen enough?
Any why is it we were afraid to look at all of these images, but yet want to see this one so badly?
Maybe for its entertainment value? After all, “war porn” has become a whole genre of online entertainment after Abu Ghraib. The problem is that it is considered entertainment now, and what it says about us that there’s a huge audience for it, a point that Liz Winstead made with a joke about the video and images from the bin Laden raid and the deficit.
I’m not saying it’s a good idea, I’m just saying our debt would disappear.#BinLadenTapeOnPayPerView
She’s probably right. But there’s a high price to be paid for that kind of entertainment.
What gets lost in the highlight reels of explosions and bodies is the moral complexity of war, says Bryant Paul, an expert on the psychological and sexual effects of media. He points to a video of American soldiers making fun of a dog eating a dead Iraqi. “The behavior may be a coping mechanism for war, because they might have to normalize what is not normal in order to survive,” he says. “But the people who watch this stuff can’t know that, so they can’t understand the entirety of what they’re seeing.”
Yet these images will perpetuate a particular version of these wars, says Paul. It is a version that does not treat the enemy as human, or life as valuable. It is a version that does not recognize the pain of some of the U.S. soldiers who pull the trigger. And as realistic as these videos might seem, they do not show war for what it actually is: terrifyingly real.
That’s why I’m glad that the president is choosing not to release the images so in demand. We’ve seen enough, haven’t we? We’ve seen video from inside the bin Laden compound. We’ve seen graphic images of dead men from inside the bunker. There’s plenty of blood and gore in those images, but since none of the dead guys are bin Laden the images do not satisfy.
Why do we need to see this one?
One reason? Vengeance. Disappointed with bin Laden’s burial at sea after being wrapped in a shroud, and not satisfied with the DNA confirmation of his identity, some right wingers wanted his corpse — naked and bullet-ridden — brought back to the U.S. and put on display, ostensibly to “prove” to their satisfaction that “we got him.”
On Breitbart’s website, J. Michael Waller, suggests Obama take a number of extraordinary steps so he can “make sure [Osama] is dead.” Pictures are apparently not enough. Walker asserts that he needs to be able to “walk right up to bin Laden’s corpse and view it.” More:
The free world, particularly the United States, has a right to make sure Osama bin Laden is really dead. Every American has a right to walk right up to bin Laden’s corpse and view it. We are entitled to know for a fact that the witch is dead. No shroud for dignity’s sake, please – bin Laden’s naked, bullet-riddled corpse should be put on display in lower Manhattan for all the world to see. The entire body should be digitally scanned, inside and out – and made available for everyone to take his or her own picture.
What? No nationwide tour? (Again, think deficit here, folks. What would people pay to have their pictures taken with bin Laden’s corpse?) Then we’d all get the chance to gloat a little, too.
Why do we need the world to see it?
One reason? Intimidation.
That’s right. We need one more picture to shove in the world’s face. As if it hasn’t seen enough of our handiwork already. (These are the same folks who said those of us who were opposed to the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq should have been forced to look at the most graphic images of 9/11 victims. Because that would change our minds.) Never mind that the surest way to make others actually seek our destruction might be to blast the image of his corpse around the world, or parade it for all to see.
Bin Laden’s post 9/11 glory had faded in the Muslim world by the time he was killed. But we could easily give him a posthumous comeback.
It’s also true that bin Laden’s killing might have mattered more in 2002 or 2003. At that time in countries like Pakistan, many ordinary people had a very high regard for bin Laden and doubted that he was centrally involved in the 9/11 attacks. Over time that view has changed: popular opinion has moved more against him, and you no longer see Osama t-shirts for sale in the markets. Some people still feel a bit of respect for his ability to outwit the United States, or they are so anti-American that they embrace anybody we don’t like, but bin Laden has been marginalized over time.
Osama’s declining image also means that he won’t be a martyr in many circles (although if Americans appear too celebratory and triumphant, dancing on his grave, that may create a sympathetic backlash for Osama). Many ordinary Pakistanis, Yemenis and Afghans will simply shrug and move on. His death won’t inspire people, the way it might have in 2002. And Al Qaeda is already going through a difficult time because it has been sidelined by the Arab Spring protests; on top of that, losing its top leader will be a major blow.
And wouldn’t that be just what he’d want?
My guess is the president took all of the national security and foreign-relations related points into consideration when making the decision not to release the photos. I’m willing to bet he considered the point I’ve tried to make above — that doing so might bring us that much close to what we’ve become since 9/11, instead of giving us a chance to turn back from that course.