Monday, September 7, 2009

Images in Media

I read Carey's article first this week and have been thinking about his comparison between the "transmission view" and "ritual view" of communication for the past few days. Earlier this week, when a media furor erupted over the publishing of photos showing fatally-wounded Marine Joshua Bernard, I wondered how these theories could be applied to the various reactions to the photos. Based on Carey's analysis, responses to this issue go beyond a partisan response (while even party leaders contend that their support of or opposition to the photos is not a political issue).

Is it that we have grown to expect a certain kind of "appropriate" information from our newspapers that we find these photos so shocking? That we have grown accustomed to being shielded from the most upsetting views of war in our mainstream media that we resent their appearance in our living rooms while we experience our morning "ritual" of news-reading? Some societies are more accustomed to this type of communication. My sister reminded me of the shock she experienced when living in Mexico, where stories on murderers were accompanied by full-color pictures of the victims - post-attack. In the US, however, unaccustomed as we are to this type of communication, do these photos assist in making these events more real? In the case of war photos, I'd venture that they do - that they go beyond having mere shock-value and remind us of the authenticity and human cost of our on-going involvement in war.

Carey goes on to discuss how "news is a historic reality. It is a form of culture invented by a particular class at a particular point of history..." In our current reality, does war not include the death of American military? (February's announcement that the media can now print photos of fallen soliders - with permission from the family - changes then President George H.W. Bush's 1991 restriction wherein "the media has been barred from photographing the flag-draped caskets of about 3,850 U.S. servicemembers killed in action since 2001."

Do we really want to look at these photos? Maybe not, but perhaps more accurately, should we, in creating a more accurate reality, at least have access to these photos? Much like Carey's example of drawing a map to provide the most accurate symbol for relaying directions to a child, do photos provide the closest "symbolic form" with which we can understand events occurring across an ocean? Or by looking at them are we reducing "news" to simply "drama"?

I went on to read Thussu's history of the many men who have influenced international communication theory (yes, all men - thankfully Gary Weaver's article acknowledged Margaret Mead's role) and was interested in and also shocked by how "politically incorrect" many of these theories now seem. I wondered if many of the theorists were simply acknowledging what they believed to be the trends in international communication, or if they believed things should also be that way.

Finally, Harold Innis' assertion that stable societies were a result of an effective balance between time and space based media seemed especially relevant, especially in this period of explosive growth of new - and often temporary - media. In a time of expanding types of communications technologies, his assertion cautions us not to neglect the more permanent expressions of communication as we work to maintain a stable society.

1 comment:

  1. It's interesting you raise this point because our TV channels are so saturated with violence - how many murders do people see by watching crime shows? And many times they are graphic, yet this has somehow disappeared from our news broadcasts and newspapers. When did this happen?

    During the Vietnam war, for the first time civilian Americans were exposed to the realities of war - footage showed on the evening news, while the picture of shrapnel-nuded girl running became the emblem of the horror of war.

    Is the outcry that followed why the news no longer shows this? When did we let the media establishment protect us instead of expose us? You mentioned reducing news to drama - drama is supposed to be the facsimilel. You only get drama by evoking circumstances that have occurred in the world - when this constructed drama is more 'realistic' than reality news, we have a big problem.