The Power of the Image of Death

So I’m sitting around today and I pull up the Salon.com website to see an article about videos of death and how they are used and how it’s wrong and all that shit. The author, Mary Elizabeth Williams, suggests that we are “fascinated” by death. Are we so or is that just the ultimate fear we all have, creating a bond that is unbreakable? I know that people “face” their death and accept it, but does that mean that fear is gone? Even if the fear is gone for these people, this is such a minority of the world that have “faced” death and accepted it. I haven’t gone through that yet because I’m young and I don’t have a cause important enough or a disease bad enough to die.

The image of death is a tool these days. Williams asks in her article why show it and I’m really questioning why that is even a question. She even admits that death humbles us in a moment of sickness. What is more powerful a tool than one that puts you in your place quickly? And adding to the equation the ability to disseminate that information quickly only entices systems of power into its use. The whole hypodermic needle model works well here, in concept and in name. We are slaves to the image of death. We fear and love it, but the love is shunned due to death’s societal taboo. I have realized that news networks will never give up with their showing of death on air, but I have realized that the response needs to get better. If we try to react like Williams, explaining our fascination and news networks’ desire for death, we aren’t moving forward. There isn’t true questioning of purpose there. It’s almost like what Zizek was talking about in “Censorship Today” when he was saying that trying to save the environment was great, but it was only when we actually stopped and questioned the system of capitalism that results can be made. Understanding the reasons for our love of the image of death is important to understand, sure. But it is paramount to understand why that began and where it was initiated.

Images of death cause changes in people through intimidation. The images of a cancerous lung may help someone stop smoking. The images of Antietam gained some support for the Emancipation Proclamation. Images are powerful as we all know, but those of death go beyond the usual power. And more often than not, the image of death being used isn’t to cause societal change, but to inspire the status quo. We have no real understanding of death beyond it being a bad thing. Death is bad. No one ever wants to die and no one ever should. So we then think how we can possibly keep our lives going as long as humanly possible. We take our expensive medications. We obey police officers. “Here’s the latest story out of Iraq. Seven people died and we have video….And now a message from our sponsors who sell drugs for restless leg syndrome.”

Death is a part of life and it needn’t be shunned from our existence. We should know what’s ahead of us and all, but the image of such is being used in the worst way possible. We are living in a death-fueled media state currently and really this has occurred since the Vietnam war, but at this point just enough of the sharpness has been taken off so that instead of inspiring revolt like the 60’s, we get reinforcement of power.

One last little thing that bugged me. Williams praised Sea World for their withholding of the video footage where a trainer dies. I’d just like to point out that while Sea World did this, they held press conferences for several days after the event, using the media frenzy to their advantage. So yeah, it’s great that they withheld the video, continuing the unnecessary taboo of death’s image, but they were able to use the event poorly just as much as the news networks that use the images.

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