death porn

Ugh. As I navigate to this page to enter this post I see others are blogging about puppies and smiles, burritos and pumpkins. I on the other hand am posting about porn…death porn.

I can’t help it. I blog about what moves me, for better or worse, and the images of the last two days (I actually wrote “several,” for it seems like many more days) have been endless and queasily disturbing. Clearly the point of showing the bloody corpse, in several poses, and surrounded by a sea of camera phones is not simply to confirm Gaddafi’s death but to feed our hunger to see this death up close and personal.

But it’s not personal, at least not to me, or you, or the man next to you in line at the haunted house. Had he killed my brother or raped my sister I may have the blood lust to see his photo and spit and trounce on it, but there is something disturbing about making this the whole world’s business. His death may be, but studying his mangled body is not.

Death porn, some have called it, and that is precisely what it is, sharing the definition of having no purpose or value other than to stimulate, a visual orgy right up there with food porn and book porn and all the other porns that strike our fancy. Yea, that one too…

So many discussed and questioned the need to show these images, some claiming it was our right as some sort of graphic “progress report” on this endless “war on terror.” Others pointed out that we only show the images of the “bad guys” and not the gory ends of those whose deaths we mourn. Many find it mere confirmation of the dark side which lurks within and makes us seek out the gruesome. In this age of immediacy it’s pretty much a moot point. If the photo exists it will be published and someone will want to see it, or will give in and not turn away.

“Don’t look,” they warn, but of course we do. Our curiosity sometimes trumps our intelligence and our best intentions. I know all about this. One of the stupidest, vilest things I ever did was watch the video of Daniel Pearl’s beheading and I will regret it forever. It was a bunch of us at work, we were horrified by the news and clicked on a link and, well…I didn’t need to see it. I shouldn’t have watched. Having seen it made me feel—and I still do—ashamed, disrespectful of him and of his family.

There are some things we need to see, as confirmation, as illustration, but there are others that go beyond that, taking on a very different role. I wonder about the effects that blasting such intimate and gruesome images has on us, on our children, on those in society who are already teetering on the border between sanity and its opposite. I would go as far as to posit that societies where such images are prevalent tend to be more violent. But I’m no researcher or social scientist. I just feel in my gut that I’m violated when I’m force fed such images, and that in turn, I violate just by watching.

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10 thoughts on “death porn

  1. SO well said, Tracey, and necessary. I wouldn’t choose to see any of these images, either, so it was a shock when a friend posted the photo of Ghaddafi on FB. This is a North African friend, born, raised and living in the midst of their revolution, so I felt a faint bit more leeway than I would have if an American friend had posted it… But still wished it hadn’t appeared on my screen to live on in my head.

  2. I totally agree with you. Why is it our “right” to see this? The word “right” sure is thrown around a lot these days. Well, regardless of it being a right or not, it’s sure nothing something I WANT to see. I don’t get it either.

    1. I really don’t have a problem with these things, stories and images, being available to those who choose to seek them out, although I would question anyone who would spend time looking at such gruesome images…and I certainly don’t appreciate them being broadcast and posted over and over and over again without giving people the opportunity to choose whether or not they wish to view them.

  3. Our society is so undiscrimintaing in its voyeurism, and the media drives that. I stopped watching the news in 2000 when I had cancer. Before that, I had been a news junkie. I was surprised to find that I didn’t miss it, and I’ve never gone back to watching. Haven’t seen the pictures, don’t want to see the pictures, won’t see the pictures.

    1. Sorry to hear about your cancer, and hoping that since years have passed that you are doing well.

      I admit to be a bit of a news junkie, but I go on definite “cleanses” when I just stay away to focus on other things, knowing that if there’s anything big I’ll hear about it. It’s all too tempting, though, with so many sources at the ready. While being aware of all of the world’s problems makes your own seem very insignificant, it also clouds your head with stresses, images and stories, that affect the way you see things, often in pretty negative ways. The people I’ve known who have the best attitudes, and who seem to bring positive change to their lives and those of others, often control what goes in quite zealously…a media diet of sorts. Whole food news reading, getting to the grain and not getting distracted by all the fluff.

  4. I think of Al-Jazeera which shows every tidbit they can (I say that without judgment), maybe because right outside these people’s doors, in their cities, to the people they love and maybe even to themselves, all of these things are happening. Children in many areas of the world grow up with only this world as their experience—my god, how it must deaden someone to a certain point. The thought of a different world, another way of living must feel so, so beyond the realm of possibility that children don’t even imagine it anymore. But, they can see it—the freedoms of other countries where children can make plans, dream, grow up to be exactly what they want to be—it must seem so surreal in comparison to the poverty, violence and repression they, their friends and family, their country’s are subjected to year after year.

    Ghaddafi ruled for 40 years. Two generations. For many people it’s all they’ve ever known. I can’t even imagine how out-of-their-mind thrilled these people must be. And, yet I do wonder, with the violence they’ve experienced these past decades, did that directly or indirectly lead to them possibly executing Ghaddafi rather than bring him in to be put on trial for his actions? Did living the decades under his dictatorial ruthlessness make them so callous that they shot him in his legs, dragged him around for all to see and then put a bullet through his head and execute him?

    So, is the question, since these people in these countries experience death and violence and injustice their whole lives but we, Americans, are insulated and have the luxury—thank god!—that we don’t live in that kind of world, should we be sheltered from those images? If we see them, are we being voyeurs or just stepping into the real world; the “real” world of fighting and violence in which most of the world exists their whole lives?

    Thank you for your post. It’s a great topic. Even after I’ve written what I’ve just written, I’m still undecided and ruminating.

    1. Thanks for such a thoughtful response. I ask myself the same questions, often. All one has to do is travel, live outside the U.S. or at least get to know people who have lived lives far less “safe” and “coddled” than ours has been to know that we are protected from many of the harsh realities of life. Hell, even in food most Americans can’t eat anything that looks remotely like the animal from whence it came!

      The journalists who worked in the region knew that if caught he would probably not make it to trial, that he would be killed. Oddly enough I’m not questioning their blood lust. Although I must say, I know plenty of people from that region and others where there is great strife and they would not be interested in seeing such images, even if they were of their worse enemy. Knowing he was dead, yes. Having confirmation of same, also, but beyond that I think it does become something else, or at least should be there for those who choose to see it, not splashed across the screens and papers.

      I guess it’s a fine line between presenting realities and uncensored truths and having utilizing it for its ability to titillate or up ratings.

  5. I’m so glad you were brave enough to post about this issue. Politics and “what people need to see” is one part of it. There may be legitimate psychological reasons. But not everybody has the need to see death images, and for some people, they are mentally harmful. I did not look directly at the death images of Gadaffi. If I caught a glimpse in the newspaper I squinted to blur my eyes. Sounds silly to some, I know. But I know I am a vividly visual person and once I see an image it never goes away. I don’t need that in my brain.

    The fact that videos of beheadings and violent death images are widely available and sometimes unavoidable is an unpleasant reality of the kind of world we live in. It’s why I never watch horror movies. The few old Alfred Hitchcocks I’ve seen are plenty for me to get the general idea. I even hate the fact that I have to see roadkill horror scenes as I drive along the roads. Just the way the world is….

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