Wednesday, September 09, 2009

It's a bloody fact.

We have an interesting love-hate relationship with carnage. I mention this apropos of the recent furor over AP's release of a photo showing a U.S. soldier in his death throes after being hit by a rocket-launched grenade. The photo, many said, was "too graphic," and its release "insensitive" to the feelings of his loved ones. (And here I have to ask myself: How many people, when they first heard about the controversy, felt that little rush of excitement and made an extra-special point of hunting down the photo so they could see for themselves? How many of you felt that little rush now? I'm somewhat reminded of the purveyors of grindhouse shlock who take a review like "This movie is sick" or "This film will turn your stomach!" and use it as a promo, giving the line prominent placement on billboards and ads.)

Newscasts show us some types of horrorlike that January 2005 video of the man on a Sri Lankan beach, being swept away by a tsunamibut will not show other types, like people burning in a fire or the tragic end of police pursuits where a suspect is shot in the head. News hints at carnage, delivering to its audience a tantalizing, soft-core version of the full experience. This unwritten rule exists, I am convinced, for one reason and one reason only: because we, as consumers, need to save face. We want to see the human tragedy, but we want it to be shown to us (at least at first) in fuzzy focus, from a distance. This feeds our voyeuristic appetite for gore while also leaving us with "plausible deniability" of that appetite. It allows us to give ourselves a "comfortable" dose of gore (or find out where the gore is located) while also assuring ourselves that we're really sophisticated, upstanding, humane people, the kind of people who would never actually get off on such a thing.... After all, if we did get off on that kind of thing, geez, what would it say about us?

So it is that following 9/11, networks showed video after video of the planes hitting the Twin Towers and bursting into flames
yet if a video existed showing any actual victims bursting into flames, that video would never be shown. If it were, network switchboards would crackle with complaints from outraged viewers, surely in many cases the same viewers who were tuning in nightly, hoping for a new-and-improved angle on the planes hitting the Towers.

I'm pressed for time today, but the bottom line is this: Carnage is real. During wartime, it's not just buildings that explode when they're struck by cruise missiles or rocket-propelled grenades. People die in those buildings. Human bodies are torn apart. And the inescapable truth is that a good percentage of us, probably the majority, find that somewhat erotic.


NOTE: I've posted the album cover above in response to a special request. Unlike the doctored photo at the top, this was eerily legit...designed by a rap group prior to the Twin Towers attack, and scheduled to be released, I believe, that month. Needless to say, 9/11 required an emergency cover redesign.


Stever Robbins said...

Your picture is amazing. I Googled, searching for information about that webtourist photo (and in particular, how in the world it would have been recovered from the wreckage). Sadly, it's a fake: I'm going to go watch FOX news now, so I can see some real violence.

Noadi said...

When I saw the photo my reaction was "why are people, other than his family, upset?". I understand the family being upset because it is their son who died and they probably don't want to see any images of how he died.

However what I see in that photo are Marines trying their best to save a member of their unit. Tragically they failed but if he had survived no one would think that photo was too graphic, it would be considered heroic. I still think those Marines were heroic even though they didn't save his life.

Steve Salerno said...

I know the photo is fake, Stever. It was the subject of quite a bit of oh-my-god controversy back mid-2002 or so. But it sure is chilling, isn't it?

Of course, the rap album cover that predated 9/11 but depicted the damage in startling detail, right down to the location of the explosions--I forget the one, but I'm sure it's easily Googlable--was not a fake, and is seriously chilling.

Stever Robbins said...

Hi, Steve. Can you give a pointer to the rap cover? I'd like to see that. I always find before-the-fact things like that a lot of fun. (Have you ever read the Onion's 2000 satire upon George Bush's election, "Nation's Nightmare of Peace and Prosperity is Finally Over." Pretty much everything in the satire ended up happening, though mostly to a degree not even the satirists predicted.)

Dimension Skipper said...

I'm confident the album to which Steve is referring is Party Music by The Coup. The original artwork (done in June 2001) is just as Steve describes, but the album's release was then delayed so that new artwork could be used instead. According to Wikipedia one of the duo wanted to keep the original cover image intact for the release. (Neither here nor there, but just as a personal aside I would have doubts as to his stated reasons. Perhaps I'm just a jaded cynic.)

Snopes also reported on the album cover, corroborating Wikipedia and mentioning another album (which actually had been released prior) with a similar post-9/11 cover issue...

"Dream Theater's "Live Scenes from New York" album, which had been released with a cover depicting a burning New York City skyline (including the World Trade Center buildings), has been recalled and will be re-issued with new artwork."

Looking at Snopes' small version of that cover I can kind of make out what they're talking about. Here's a larger image of the Dream Theater cover (not even close to being as eerily similar to 9/11 WTC reality as the cover for Party Music was). I have to assume this is the reworked version, minus the burning skyline imagery.

Anonymous said...

Ah, let's not forget the song "I Blew Up The United States', by Was (Not Was), written way before 9/11.

Steve Salerno said...

Thanks, Anon 11:49. You have to admit, though, that that sentiment (e.g. "Let's Blow Up...") is fairly generic, and has been around for a while now in this country, since the Weatherman/Philip Berrigan days. But that 2001 album cover is remarkable in its specificity, right down to the relative positioning of the explosions on the Towers.