I sometimes wonder about the way we do things; about the things we think are acceptable and the things we think are not.
For example, I was angered and indignant about the Bush Administration’s decision not to allow photographers and press to photograph the caskets of soldiers returning to the country from war. I have been frustrated, again and again, that I have to seek out – often on blogs or facebook – the names of those who are killed in action; our national media doesn’t spare one moment of air time to acknowledge that these men and women have died unless there’s a “local” connection to a market. The Obama administration lifted the press ban, and that’s a good thing, but there’s still not nearly enough attention given to the price that real people pay for the wars that we wage.
Then I found this story. Please go read it; I’ll wait.
I understand that there is a line – and a mighty fine one – between information and exploitation. Issues of privacy are complex ones to navigate, and no family should be compelled to release information about their loved ones that they would choose not to share. There’s also the question of how far the public can be pushed with images and stories that are uncomfortable at best and horrifying at worst.
I think we have a serious problem, though, in that we’re not willing to consider the very real effects of the policies and practices we enable. Sure, we can talk about them in the abstract, but we don’t want to have to look the consequences of our action (or our inaction) in the face. We don’t want to think about the veterans who have to wait literally months to receive benefits. We don’t want to see images of plane bellies filled with flag-draped caskets. We don’t want to have the atrocities visited upon children described to us in any kind of detail that might make us uncomfortable, or that might haunt our quiet moments. I found it interesting – and more than a little disturbing – that I had to click a disclaimer on The Big Picture’s 2012 in review to see photographs of dead bodies, but images of poverty, starvation, and incarceration were out in the open.
I think that our sensitivities are askew.
In 1955, Emmitt Till was murdered in Mississippi. His mother insisted on an open casket funeral; she wanted people to see his brutally beaten body and to truly know – not just to understand intellectually, but viscerally – what had happened to her son. She received a lot of criticism for that decision, of course; no one wants to see such a thing, but neither do those within the system that allowed it to happen want the kind of outrage and activism that such a thing is likely to inspire. I think that Mamie Till was incredibly brave to take her stand. I think that people need to be shaken out of their complacency and really understand what’s happening in their name. I honor the choice that Noah’s mother made here, and I am grateful that the Jewish Daily Forward agreed to publish the story.
I think it’s about time we brought back the Vietnam-era practice of listing the casualties we create, both here and abroad. I think that every single news outlet should be required, as a condition of their continued licensure – to devote a set amount of time – every day – to report on the war in Afghanistan (and anywhere else we’re engaged in combat at the moment) AND to investigate and report on the literally hundreds of shootings that happen in this country (as of this writing, there have been 427 reported gun deaths since the Newtown shooting; see the link in the comments).
I’m certain that a number of us have imagined – to our horror – what the first responders saw when they entered the Sandy Hook Elementary School that morning, and I’m just as certain that there’s nothing we can imagine that is even close to the reality. While I’m not interested in exploiting the deaths of those people, or of anyone else, for that matter, I’m thinking it’s about time we be done with sheltering ourselves from the realities of the culture we continue to enable.