On Watching “Neda”

I stupidly, uninformedly re-blogged a very thoughtful, carefully worded post from Indefensible about the video of a young Iranian woman dying in her father’s arms. My addition to the dialogue at that time amounted to little more than a frat-boyish: “Totally, bro! But how ‘bout them titty videos?”

I now know how utterly dunderheaded that was.

I am sorry for taking it so lightly. I hadn’t yet seen or heard about the heartwrenching video of the woman who had reportedly been shot in the heart by a pro-Ahmadinejad Basij fighter. Still haven’t seen it, but it’s been described to me. Horrific. Unimaginable. From my understanding it’s the kind of thing you can never un-see. And for some — nay, many — it may have triggered a watershed moment wherein the viewer finally “gets” what’s going on in Iran. That’s why we shouldn’t stop everyone from watching “Neda.”

Some — nay, many — people need an actual, visual, moving representation of an atrocity in order to get a true understanding of it. Not everyone can summon the whole story based on reading words on paper or scrolling through Web sites. Sometimes they need a little more. And if that’s what it takes for them to “get it,” I say publish those pictures, upload the video and roll those tapes.

A similar debate emerged when TMZ published photos of a battered Rihanna (I know it’s not really fair to compare a massive cultural uprising to one couple’s domestic violence, but it’s relevant to the “to print/not to print gruesome images” argument). Many people saw it as sensationalism — and indeed it was partially that. But it was also what really drove home the point that this was a girl who’d been seriously beaten. It was not cute. Or funny. Or up for debate. It really happened. Because these images were published I am sure that quite a few people truly realized how atrocious domestic violence can be.

The same is true with the video of “Nena.” People whose imagination and attention had not yet been engaged by the Iran election stories to date are now much more aware of just how serious things are.

It’s a shame that it takes such vivid, gruesome video to get people to stand up and take notice of important and terrible — and terribly important — things. But very often it does. Static pictures are all too often trumped by moving ones. (To riff on Indefensible’s “pornography” reference: it’s the same reason why Playboy magazine is hanging on by a thread and YouPorn.com is doing just fine.)

I agree with the thrust of the argument that overexposure to violence can inure us to it. No question. But I don’t think that means all imagery surrounding gruesome acts should be censored — particularly if it serves a higher purpose of getting people to wake the hell up.

Addendum: I suppose I could’ve saved myself (and you, if you’ve made it this far) a lot of time by just reblogging Adam Isacson’s much-better post on the matter and added “what he said.” Oh well.