We Like to Watch


When it comes to violence, how much are we willing to take in?  The world, it seems, has gone beyond, or perhaps finally met up with, the best that Hollywood has offered us over the years, with deaths in Iraq and Afghanistan still mounting, in Washington, D.C. with the horrible Metro accident, and, for the world to see, in Iran with the broadcast death of a woman called Neda.

In an NPR article by Avie Schneider, which you can find here, we are confronted again with a very real, and on some levels, very disturbing, I think, facet of ourselves: We are willing not only to watch, but willing to record, a woman's violent death on a street and it becomes news. There are many different ways to approach this event, and several, I think, important questions that need to be asked, not only about the nature of how we get our news and what "counts" as news, but why this particular event is so, well, newsworthy.  So, I'll give fair warning that I may be asking more questions than offering answers of my own. But that encourages dialogue, and if the world needs more of something, actual conversations couldn't hurt. They may actually help...novel idea that that could be.

Schneider's article, I think, expresses a pressing concern about the advent of citizen journalists who offer news through unfiltered lenses. While generally I'm an avid supporter of going at things raw, and while I'm a firm believer that the news should not only be unbiased but informative and accurate, as opposed to shrouded and misleading, I'm not sure everyone with a camera phone and access to YouTube needs to be a journalist.  But, the rise of every man posting every thing raises an interesting question: why do we watch it? And, interestingly, why do innumerable hits on YouTube suddenly make it "news" for the major news outlets?  Who's really on the cutting edge of breaking stories then?

Much can, and has, been said about the act of broadcasting this video. Much has been made of the rise of sites like YouTube, Wikipedia, and Twitter becoming ever more necessary in our quest for information in relation to this story.

But I'd like to think about another aspect: Gender. We are watching, if we choose, the final effect of violence against a woman. How much does gender affect our response to the story?  Similarly, how much does her gender affect that this is a story at all?  Presumably, a man died in a similar way that day, yet there is no video floating around, creating something of a media frenzy.  It's something, isn't it, when violence committed presumably by men on another man, is no longer worthy of explicit comment the way that violence against a woman is.  In saying so, I am by no means trying to diminish violence against this woman or any woman--violence against women remains a significant blight on our society as a whole.  But I think part of this story's significance lies in the fact that Neda was a woman who died in such a public setting, in such a violent way. Which, then, begs another question: Why are we obsessed with watching violence directed at women? Why can't we look away, or not take out a camera phone and hit record? Why is our answer, it seems, to just keep watching, rather than to try and prevent such violence in the first place?  By watching so obsessively, aren't we, to a degree, sanctioning such violence and its publication?

This media moment is a teaching moment, and great lessons about violence, the publication of images, journalistic integrity, international relations, and a host of other issues, can be learned if only we take the time to do so.


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