Normally I let the idiotic comments of our cable TV pundits wash over me like a megalomaniacal lullaby as I fade into oblivion each night. But Laura Ingraham said something on her radio show the other day that got me to thinking. She said that Americans no longer need photojournalism to cover the death and destruction caused by war, because we now have “high-tech Hollywood” for that.
The issue came up after freelance photojournalist Zoriah Miller appeared on Ingraham’s show. Miller, whose case has been covered on Black Star Rising by Dennis Dunleavy , was removed from his embedded assignment in Iraq after posting graphic images of dead U.S. Marines on his personal Web site.
Ingraham accused Miller of acting not as a journalist but as a member of the “anti-war clack,” then explained why the American public did not need to see images of war dead :
We know what it is like for people to be disemboweled by an IED or a sniper’s bullet. We’ve seen enough of the horror, with the high-tech Hollywood, okay. We know what it is.
A commenter on my Spin Thicket  site responded to Ingraham’s remark this way:
This woman needs a reality check. Hollywood’s images do not hit home because we all know it’s fake.
It would be easy enough, then, to dismiss Ingraham’s comment as just another idiotic remark by another idiot pundit. Unfortunately, I’m afraid that, deep down, most of us agree with Ingraham — or at least want to agree with her.
Hollywood vs. Real-Life Images of Violence
Let’s play Ingraham’s Advocate for a moment.
At this point, we’ve probably all seen soldiers’ arms, legs and heads blown off in movies like Saving Private Ryan, right? Sly Stallone even cranked it up a notch in the latest Rambo by showing us innocent women and children having their arms, legs and heads blown off. Do we really need to see images of dead people in the news anymore?
It’s hard to argue that the Hollywood carnage isn’t realistic.
Then again, as the Spin Thicket commenter points out, it’s a lot easier to watch graphic violence when you can always stop and tell yourself, “It’s only a movie.” It’s different when it’s real, right?
Yes, it is — but I’m not so sure that’s the issue here.
Why? Because just as depictions of violence in the movies have gotten more graphic over the years, so have depictions of real-life violence on TV.
For example, true-crime shows (Dateline, 48 Hours Mystery) and channels (truTV, Investigation Discovery) have emerged as one of the most popular television programming categories in recent years. These shows increasingly have no compunction against televising graphic crime-scene photos.
I’ve seen close-up images of dead people with bullets in the head and worse on these programs. My wife turns away from them and wonders why the programs show them. Clearly, the answer is ratings. More people want to see them than don’t.
This isn’t Hollywood; it’s real violence. And people still crave to see it.
The Violence We Create vs. The Violence We Don’t
So why, then, does the public not clamor for images of violence and devastation from Iraq and Afghanistan? Why do we not protest when the Pentagon refuses to allow photographers at military funerals — even in instances where the family has specifically requested that the media be permitted to attend?
Certainly, photographic images of war’s devastation have impact beyond the sensational. Such images can have real news value — not to mention an enormous impact on public opinion, and on history.
Let’s put aside Vietnam for a moment — since, three decades after that war ended, it remains a political football. Instead, let’s look at World War II and its aftermath. What if we didn’t have footage of the horrors of Nazi concentration camps; what it we didn’t have documentaries like Night and Fog? How many more Holocaust deniers would there be today if we didn’t have images to document what occurred?
Could it be that we don’t seek out graphic images from Iraq and Afghanistan today because it reminds us of our collective responsibility for the wars we wage? Could it be that we want to think that real-life war is like Hollywood wars — where the violence is in service to a clear narrative, where the good guys win and the bad guys get what’s coming to them?
Or could it be that we simply would rather not think about it at all?
Sometimes, journalists have a responsibility to feed us bad-tasting medicine, the kind we don’t want to take. Which is why media outlets — and members of the public who value a free and independent press — should fight, if necessary, to see the horrors of war.
We need to see photographs that stay with us, that shake us into action. What we don’t need are more images that wash over us like the mollifying rants of so many idiot pundits.
[tags]photojournalism, war photography[/tags]