When words do not suffice
May 14, 2004
Brutality and horror dominate the headlines. Discussions of murder, torture
and decapitation replace water cooler small talk. At stake is what this all
means for us as Americans.
Sadly, we really do need to care about what the rest of the world thinks.
Even those who choose to never leave our supersized island are affected.
For myself and others who like to fly dozens of hours to meet other people,
it will make for much in the way of redundant conversation.
As an American abroad, you represent all that is portrayed as American around
the world. In other places people tend to be voracious news readers, and like
to talk about issues. With headlines dominated by the United States, most rarely
let an opportunity to talk to an American pass.
Wherever I went in early 2000, the mono-dialog was about the contested election
between Bush and Gore. In late 2001, I had more conversations about Sept. 11
with complete strangers than I care to recall. Im not looking forward
to my next round of travels with the same glee. Wherever I go, the sole topic
that will dominate every conversation will come down to one word: torture. And
what can I say about that? That its nothing compared to a few vicious
a-holes who decided to cut off the head of an American?
That logic may fly on the AM dial, but away from this continent it sounds
empty. Trying to excuse the behavior of our state because it is not as
bad as the misdeeds of a few of the worst guys in the world is pathetic.
We are supposed to stand for something better than that, not a lesser of evils.
Same for our mass media. Someone recently suggested I should appreciate that
our press is much freer than that of, say, Pakistan. I dont think just
being better than Pakistan is enough. We increasingly shy away from reporting
that might disturb people. If disturbing things are happening across
the world, is it enough to just say so? Show me, dont tell me.
With a few images trickling out from what threatens to be a deluge of thousands,
some argue that the public is too intelligent to need to see such images. They
say everyone knows war is horrible. The implication is that seeing
such images will shatter our IQ and compel them to such irrational acts as reconsidering
their opinions. Shudder.
For the most part, this comes up most frequently when images such as photographs
or video footage are involved.
We seem to have peculiar sensitivities. Reading in print that the invasion
and subsequent occupation of Iraq has killed more than 1,000 Americans and about
30,000 Iraqis is too abstract and intangible to have any resonance. Express
that information with a few pictures or footage, and it becomes real.
While images are certainly subject to manipulation and distortion, they can
offer the least filtered version of what is happening. Printed words are far
more malleable and capable of spinning reality.
They argue that to show certain things is motivated by politics, avoiding
the logical next-step that not showing things would also be a political decision.
Some cry foul over what they call attempts to politicize issues.
They say people are trying to politicize the war in Iraq, politicize the prison
torture, politicize flag-draped coffins. Exploiting the malignancy of the word
political. Like other code words, politicization seems to be a euphemism for
debate, discussion and most troubling of all, disagreement. If politicizing
means that we the people might have a clearer picture of what is going on and
thus might want to have a say, then politicization sounds downright
democratic to me.
Kenneth Todd Ruiz, a senior journalism major, is editor in chief of the
Campus Times. He can be reached by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.