Words without pictures

For the most part, I don’t have to read the news any longer. Looking at the pictures is enough.

I see Wall Street traders looking distressed at something else outside the frame, maybe they’re clutching their heads. There has been another bumpy day for stocks. The more often I see that same picture in its endless variations, the scarier things are.

I see a man in suit looking down, possibly pressing his lips together: some politician finally realized he had to resign over some scumbaggery.

I see a politician giving a speech without his suit jacket, his sleeves rolled up: someone wants to win an election.

I see a group of students embrace, and I know there has been another mass shooting at a school. I see the footage, it’s always the same, of students being led out of the school, their hands maybe raised (as if they were somehow were the perpetrators).

I see the pictures of men in suits trying or pretending to be concerned (I can’t tell), telling the country that there need not be any quick conclusions, that more data is needed before anything can be done: I see the faces of moral cowards, bought off by the gun lobby.

(The throwing of candy from gaudy carnival floats in Germany has more dignity than US politicians tweeting their “thoughts and prayers” after yet another mass shooting.)

I see tightly composed groups of angry-looking men yelling or waving directly into the camera. These men don’t look like the men I see in my neighbourhood. There must be some demonstration or unrest in another part of the world. Often, it’s in the Arab speaking world, or maybe South America. Doesn’t matter, it’s not in the West, so these men aren’t necessarily given the dignity our men are accorded when they protest. Here, these men are just so angry, so threatening, even when their case in principle should be ours, when they demand the human rights we (still) enjoy. I am being told with pictures that Arabs or people living in South America are threatening. Also that asking for your rights too forcefully is not a good thing.

I am not being told directly, but it’s clearly implied through the visuals.

I get the message.

I ought to make it clear that by “our men” above of course that’s just white men. In the news, protests by large groups of African Americans are treated like those protests far away. We’ve seen enough coverage of those protests that these visuals, taken in our midst, do their job: there’s a threat. Remember: according to the pictures, asking for your rights too forcefully is not a good thing.

I get the message.

I see another tightly composed group, this time clearly Arab women: they’re dressed in black, with only their faces showing, faces of grief. They’re wailing. But even as they mourn the dead, they’re being made to look threatening. I can’t help but feel bad for their loss and for the way they are now being depicted. It’s insult added to injury.

I see guns shooting, rockets flying, I see explosions — I see a young man eager to get the most out of his fancy new digital camera (that burst mode ought to be useful for something). And the rocket’s red glare, the bombs bursting in air. There’s something in the national DNA that the idea even made it into the anthem.

What I don’t see in any of those images is compassion for suffering. I don’t see empathy. I only see a media mechanism. And I see a group of people eager to get the next shot that will be published, working within very, very narrow confines.

Even as with words many of our Western prejudices cannot be expressed any longer, with pictures they still can be shown: They — those people in the frames — for the most part are still the Other.

They are being ogled at in visuals that are all aggressively male, even when the subject matter would ask for something different. A look at the numbers of the industry tells me why: it’s overwhelmingly male, and of course, it’s overwhelmingly white.

It’s not that I don’t know some of the people making the pictures. They’re good people. The ones I’ve met all mean so well. But they’re good people operating in a very, very bad environment, an environment that squeezes ever more money out of them while enriching those at the top. An environment that protects the very status quo that only serves a very small number of people.

So let them hand out more prizes for their achievements. Whatever. It’s not that I don’t care about the news — it’s just that I am not made to care about the pictures. I’ve seen them all. Even the ones on the front pages tomorrow or the day after.