Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Flight Itinerary

YOUR FLIGHT SELECTION *****************************Booking reservation number: YB8RLVAirline confirmation number(s): Northwest Airlines MS46FV Kenya AirwaysS8JMLU KLM Royal Dutch Airlines S8JMLU Ticket status: ticket to be processed

---------------------------------------Pittsburgh to Nairobi---------------------------------------
Flight 1 - Tuesday, 6 May 2008 Status : confirmed
Departure : 05:00 PM - Pittsburgh, USA - Pittsburgh International
Arrival : 06:19 PM - Detroit, USA - Detroit Metro, terminal
+++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++>Change of plane required. Time between flights = 0:46<+++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++ Flight 2 - Tuesday, 6 May 2008 Status : confirmed Departure : 07:05 PM - Detroit, USA - Detroit Metro Arrival : 09:20 AM+1day(s) - Amsterdam, Netherlands - Schiphol Airline +++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++>Change of plane required. Time between flights = 0:55<+++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++ Flight 3 - Wednesday, 7 May 2008 Status : confirmed Departure : 10:15 AM - Amsterdam, Netherlands - Schiphol Arrival : 07:10 PM - Nairobi, Kenya - Jomo Kenyatta Airline ---------------------------------------Nairobi to Lilongwe--------------------------------------- Flight 1 - Thursday, 8 May 2008 Status : confirmed Departure : 08:30 AM - Nairobi, Kenya - Jomo Kenyatta Airline Arrival : 12:20 PM - Lilongwe, Malawi - Lilongwe International ---------------------------------------Lilongwe to Pittsburgh--------------------------------------- Flight 1 - Sunday, 8 June 2008 Status : confirmed Departure : 01:20 PM - Lilongwe, Malawi - Lilongwe International Arrival : 04:25 PM - Nairobi, Kenya - Jomo Kenyatta Airline +++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++>Change of plane required. Time between flights = 5:50<+++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++ Flight 2 - Sunday, 8 June 2008 Status : confirmed Departure : 10:15 PM - Nairobi, Kenya - Jomo Kenyatta Arrival : 05:30 AM+1day(s) - Amsterdam, Netherlands - Schiphol Airline +++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++>Change of plane required. Time between flights = 2:30<+++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++ Flight 3 - Monday, 9 June 2008 Status : confirmed Departure : 08:00 AM - Amsterdam, Netherlands - Schiphol Arrival : 10:35 AM - Detroit, USA +++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++>Change of plane required. Time between flights = 3:00<+++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++ Flight 4 - Monday, 9 June 2008 Status : confirmed Departure : 01:35 PM - Detroit, USA - Detroit Metro, terminal EM Arrival : 02:39 PM - Pittsburgh, USA *****************************************************************************************************************************************************Penalties Per Person) Before DepartureCancel: Not-Allowed Change: $350.00 After DepartureCancel: Not-Allowed Change: $350.00 ***************************************************************************YOU MUST BRING YOUR GOVERNMENT ISSUED PHOTO ID TO THE AIRPORT. A VALIDPASSPORT IS REQUIRED FOR ALL INTERNATIONAL TRAVEL. PLEASE MAKE SURE THAT THENAME ON THE TICKET MATCHES THE NAME ON THE PASSPORT. NAME CHANGES ARE NOT ALLOWED ONCE TICKET IS ISSUED.PLEASE REVIEW YOUR ITINERARY TO MAKE SURE YOUR NAME &TRAVEL DATES ARE CORRECT BEFORE YOU PAY FOR THE FLIGHT. IT IS YOUR RESPONSIBILITY TO ENSURE YOU HAVE THEPROPER VISAS AND DOCUMENTS.FAILURE TO HAVE APPROPRIATE DOCUMENTATION MAY RESULTIN DENIED BOARDING OR DENIED ENTRY AND YOU WILL LOSETHE FULL VALUE OF YOUR TICKET.PLEASE VISIT http://www.state.gov/, OR THE EMBASSY OF YOURDESTINATION COUNTRY TO OBTAIN FURTHER INFORMATION.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Baghdad Burning - Girl Blog from Iraq

I drove my dusty eighteen wheeler into Baghdad for the first in August of 2004, the same month that "Riverbend" began composing her first months of blogs. . Writing under an anonymous name, this young woman who'd worked as a computer programmer before the war, began to document the everyday story of her family, her neighborhood, and the country, even as I began to haul supplies around her country. It was absolutely fascinating, two years later, to retrace the history I'd lived, to hear and see the contrasts and connections with this other set of eyes and ears, to see how she brought other eyes and voices to her pages through various media - as well as the texture of everyday domestic life and culture. Within these narratives, she embedded links to recipes that her family loved to cook, to political commentary, to music she danced to, to comics and satires, to movies, to explanations of local customs and holidays, to Al-Jazeera coverage and to American TV shows, to photos of the Abu Ghraib. She writes mini-reviews of media that move or anger or spur her to find out more or teach her how to cope or to connect with us who she'd like to be able to simply call enemy - when writing about Fahrenheit 451, the Michael Moore movie, she writes about the mother of an American soldier

"Ah, that mother. How she made me angry in the beginning. I couldn’t stand to see her on screen- convincing the world that joining the army was the ideal thing to do- perfectly happy that her daughter and son were ‘serving’ America- nay, serving, in fact, the world by joining up. I hated her even more as they showed the Iraqi victims- the burning buildings, the explosions, the corpses- the dead and the dying. I wanted to hate her throughout the whole film because she embodied the arrogance and ignorance of the people who supported the war.

I can’t explain the feelings I had towards her. I pitied her because, apparently, she knew very little about what she was sending her kids into. I was angry with her because she really didn’t want to know what she was sending her children to do. In the end, all of those feelings crumbled away as she read the last letter from her deceased son. I began feeling a sympathy I really didn’t want to feel, and as she was walking in the streets of Washington, looking at the protestors and crying, it struck me that the Americans around her would never understand her anguish. The irony of the situation is that the one place in the world she would ever find empathy was Iraq. We understand. We know what it’s like to lose family and friends to war- to know that their final moments weren’t peaceful ones… that they probably died thirsty and in pain… that they weren’t surrounded by loved ones while taking their final breath." (Riverbend Wednesday, September 15, 2004)

Sontag writes that Salgado's, grand-scaled, beautifully composed images seem to focus on anonymous powerlessness globalized to a scale of suffering that invites passivity..."invites them to feel that the sufferings and misfortunes are too vast, too irrevocable, too epic to be much changed by any local political intervention. With a subject conceived on this scale, compassion can only flounder - and make abstract. But all politics, like all of history, is concrete." (Sontag 79) Riverbend shows a complex weave of the concrete with the ongoing historical context on both the global and local level. Her work gives history an essential human scale.

On Riverbend's blog "I'll meet you 'round the bend my friend, where hearts can heal and souls can mend.." is the first line that met me and she seemed to address it to everyone, Americans included, even when she broke out in outbursts of frustration with just what dunderheads we were acting like. Sometimes her blogs read like little mini-theses, as she used the language of eggheads and politicos, sometimes she sounded like the postcards Postsecret, sharing snatches of such personal, intimate response and everydayness, sometimes she sounded like she was writing letters to me, one of the soldiers whose everyday decisions and choices to be decent or not really did make a big difference. She gave pretty specific advice on how to help make a few, concrete things better by the ways we could behave within the limits we were given. Sontag says "Compassion is an unstable emotion. It needs to be translated into action, or it withers." (Sontag 101) Riverbend gave some detailed recipes for how to translate our compassion into action within the very particular time and place that she had some clues about, being kind of an expert on being an Iraqi. Good manners are a big plus, she wrote - here's how you might express good will and respect even if you don't know the language she prompted. I still thank her.

Art and Photography

The question of art and photography has been in existence since photography was first invented. Many theorists completely rejected the idea that photography could be considered an art. Charles Baudelaire, among many others, firmly believed that photography was mechanical and belonged in the industrial category, not the artistic. Creating art was a very prestigious activity that could only be done by intellectuals. Taking a photograph was a purely mechanical activity that required no thought or planning at all. One simply pressed a few buttons, and the machine that is the camera created the image.

Fortunately for photographers, much has changed since the 1850's when Baudelaire declared his ideas. Today photography is considered as much an art as painting or sculpture is. Artistic photographs can be found just about everywhere in today's culture. Not only are artists highlighting their work through creative venues like museums and galleries, but they have found a place in commercial venues as well. Newspapers, magazines, and advertisements all use artistic photography. It is not enough to simply show an image of a scene or a person. There needs to be an idea behind the image that is shown through the layout, framing, and lighting of the photo. In his essay "The Photographic Message," Roland Barthes goes into great detail about the aspects that go into creating a photograph. He talks about the "trick effects" that a photographer can edit into his image, the posing of the figures that can be captured, the objects that are placed or removed from the scene, and how the image can be enhanced by elements of photogenia (lighting, exposure, printing). A photographer uses all of these aspects to create his artistic view in his image.

Even the images that we seen in the daily news about wars and disasters around the world take into account these elements. Each photographer has his or her own opinion about the event that he or she covers. As much as we like to believe that objectivity exists in the news media, we all know this isn't really that true. A photographer has an opinion and his images reflect that opinion. Photographers use the artistic elements of photography to show their ideas in their images. I think that art naturally finds its place in war and disaster photography simply because of the way photographers go about capturing their images.

Looking at Salgado's photo essays, the artistic elements are very evident. Even though Salgado's images did not appear in a newspaper or other form of media, they are still of disaster and suffering around the world. I think the fact that Salgado has won awards for his photography shows that art is definitely found in war photography. His images can also be considered beautiful. They are not beautiful in the traditional way, but beautiful in the way in which they evoke compassion. I think that this idea of beauty has in some ways taken over as what defines sometimes as beautiful. Pretty faces and sunny landscapes are rarely described as "beautiful." I think that people have come to expect beautiful images to evoke strong emotions. Viewers want to feel something when shown a landscape or a face.

Dorothea Lange's photo "Migrant Woman" taken for the FSA during the Depression, shows a woman gazing past the photographer deep in thought. Her struggles are clear on her face and she is not shown to be "pretty," but the image, and the woman, are still beautiful. The beauty of the photograph comes from the emotion that the woman's intense gaze delivers. Images like these show that even if a photographer is taking pictures during wartime or struggling, his artistic ideas still show through in his images, and it is these ideas that make a photograph beautiful.

Loan and Lapekas

Technology, certainly, has affected our ability and desire to understand world events. Consider two of the photographs I discussed during my Vietnam presentation: one of Kim Phuk, the "napalm girl," running naked from her North Vietnamese village, which was taken by New York Times photographer Nick Ut; and another of the South Vietnamese General Nguyen Ngoc Loan executing a Viet Cong prisoner, which won Eddie Adams the Pulitzer Prize.

Ut's photograph was credited with launching the anti-war sentiment in America, and led Nixon to question its authenticity. Adam's photo, along with increasing the American anti-war sentiment, ruined Loan's life -- the general was villainized in American and South Vietnamese newspapers. When Loan, fifteen years after the fall of Saigon, moved to Virginia to open a pizza parlor, a few of his patrons soon discovered that he was the one from that famous photograph. Loan found the words WE KNOW WHO YOU ARE spray-painted on the bathroom wall one night while he was cleaning, and soon after business dropped off and the parlor was closed down.

The power of a single image is astonishing. Or in my father's case, a series of images -- in 1958, when he was only sixteen, Life magazine ran a series story called "Crisis in Education." Two sixteen-year-old boys peer out from the cover of the series’ first issue. Above their juxtaposed photographs, in red letters against a black background, it reads: "Exclusive pictures of a Russian schoolboy versus his US counterpart." The Russian, Alexei Kutzkov, purses his lips beneath a soot-streak moustache. His shoulders disappear into an armor of fur. A black shapka sits pushed back from his squinted eyes, which in any language appear to ask, "What the hell are you looking at?"

The American opposite him, however, is easy-smiling, each tooth standing straighter than a post in a white picket fence. His Flat-Top with Fenders haircut lay perfectly coifed, James Dean leather jacket half-zipped over a wool sweater. The caption identifies him as Stephen Lapekas of Chicago, Illinois. He is a vestige of Life’s long (and ultimately losing) battle with television and changing tastes, the poster boy for everything that was once wrong with America. He is a faded reflection of myself at sixteen. He is my father -- and after this magazine hit newsstands in 1958, he was instantly famous. For one week in February of that year, a Life photographer and journalist had followed him around the halls and classrooms of Austin High -- snapping pictures, asking questions, never mentioning what the article would look like when finally published.

And when my father finally read the article, he understood why.

“Stephen Lapekas of Chicago,” it begins, “starts out every school day by meeting his high school steady, Penny Donahue, and heading for Austin High. Ten minutes later he gets to Typing II class, slips behind a large electric typewriter and another pleasant school day begins.” A photograph of my father adjusting the tabulator, staring at the Underwood as if at a lab specimen: “I type about a word a minute,” he jokes in the box beneath. On the next page is a shot of my dad walking back from a blackboard graffitied with mislabeled angles and shapes, biting his lip to keep from laughing: “Stephen amuses the class with his ineptitude,” the caption says.

Alexei’s pictures fill nearly the rest of the five-page article, and in only one of them is he laughing: “When not reading Tolstoy or Chekov, Alexei can be found playing fervent games of chess with classmates,” reads one caption. In the photograph overhead he is seated across from Oleg Koryokavsky, a schoolmate, chuckling because the game is almost over and as the last line of the caption reveals, “Alexei won.”

On the third page of the article, “Alexei labors with keen concentration upon a Gaz truck in shop class. Though he is college applicant, he must still take vocational courses because they are in curriculum.” His classmates clamber around him, friends of his or the camera?

On the next page my father stands at the head of his English class, under fifty stars and thirteen stripes, reading aloud from Great Expectations. His finger follows the words while a girl seated at the back peruses the pages of Modern Romances, which she has tucked tightly inside her notebook.

On another page my father can be found dancing with Penny, his high school girlfriend. “After-school theatrics,” proclaims the caption under this page-sized picture, “occupies Stephen Lapekas who, with Penny Donahue (right), dances Rockin’ Cha at the YMCA. Stephen spent four hours a week for two months rehearsing the YMCA centennial.”

And on the page directly beside this one, “After school study brings Alexei Kutzkov to the curtained silence of his home. Alexei, who seldom has a date, spends three to four hours a night on homework.” Alexei, alone, a silhouette hunched over his desktop. Dancing with famous names and dates and numbers in the dark.

Looking back, now fifty years later, my father understands that the Life article is purely propaganda. "A product of the time," he calls it -- and he's right: that article was published five months after the launch of Sputnik. America was terrified, and we needed a place to point our fingers. My father became that place (that face) only by accident, and a half-century later he is still embarrassed about it.

So as much as technology (photography, specifically) has affected our ability to understand world events, it has conversely affected our ability to misunderstand them. If anyone at the time had bothered to research the events behind Eddie Adam's photo, he would have found that Loan, a highly decorated general, was simply doing his job. The same is true for my father. His family and friends knew that he was, despite being a c-student, intelligent, motivated, and diligent, but the country's perception of him, based on only a handful of the two-thousand photographs taken over the course of that week, was quite the opposite.

Outside the Frame

History is memory cobbled together, understood differently by each individual. Much of our understanding of world events since the 1800’s can be called to mind visually, events represented by single frames. Sontag states “This remembering through photographs eclipses other forms of understanding,” (89). In an increasingly media-saturated culture, has technology affected our ability or our desire to understand world events? Is it enough to know that such events are happening?

In today’s culture, I think the desire to understand world events is often overcome by a false feeling of knowing everything already. The expression ‘a picture is worth a thousand words,’ suggests that the images that pervade our culture tell the whole story. Consider John Kifner’s writing about the image of the Serb militiaman kicking the Muslim woman: “It tells you everything you need to know,” (90). I think many people expect photographs to be a quick and easy tell-all for world events. In the same way that someone might browse headlines online instead of reading news stories, they might browse the images and captions in order to know what’s going on. This cursory overview might seem like an adequate way of “understanding,” but it’s not. As Sontag says, “but of course [a photograph] doesn’t tell us everything we need to know,” (90).

A photograph shows us one scene or image through the perspective of one photographer. It can be manipulated (either digitally or through the presentation) to mean something to one group and something totally different to another group. For example, “during the fighting between Serbs and Croats at the beginning of the recent Balkan wars, the same photographs of children killed in the shelling of a village were passed around at both Serb and Croat propaganda briefings. Alter the caption, and the children’s deaths could be used and reused,” (10). Clearly, a picture can be shown to mean something it does not, which makes the desire to find an all encompassing truth in a photograph dangerous.

Our ability to understand world events is thus altered by treating an image as a quick capsule of truth. Since people think that “everything we need to know” can be taken in a glance, there is apparently less need and less desire to actually research or investigate the event. Knowing of an event rather than about it makes people docile. If, when looking at a typical image of a bloat belly child in an African famine, the viewer feels shock and empathy, they might consider their job done. They have seen the image, and now they “know” there is starvation and suffering, and they have felt sufficiently bad about it. But this doesn’t solve anything. It’s necessary to see a picture and wonder what’s going on outside the frame.

I think this same logic holds true on a smaller scale. When Sontag says, “this remembering through photographs eclipses other forms of understanding,” (89), she’s right – and not just about world events. A lot of my “memories” cannot exist without the photograph of the event. I say that I “remember” playing in my pap’s pigpen with the pigs, but what I’m really remembering is a picture of me in a dress crouching down in some hay petting pigs. The stories I’ve heard about it fill in my “memory,” but what I understand about the event hinges on the image.

The same type of memory affects the way I think about world events. The image on the girl running from the napalmed village in Vietnam really influenced the way I “understood” the Vietnam War. I first encountered the image in a high school history course and without knowing much of anything about the war I based my opinions and understanding on that one image. It’s a hollow, false way of trying to understand anything, and the use of images in the media is dangerous for exactly that reason. In the same way that the Serbs and Croats could be made to feel hate based misrepresented images of dead children, images today could be misrepresented to influence us.

Although photographs are useful resources, they only capture a fraction of the event. As Gourevitch explains in We Wish to Inform You, it’s appealing to look at the dead bodies but just looking is not enough. The bodies hold only a part of the history of the genocide. A frame can only hold so much, and it takes all parts to make a whole.

Ashley Watt

Images Readings Response

There is no doubt in my mind that technology—in our “increasingly media-saturated culture"—has affected our society’s ability and desire to understand world events. For the better. With news channel websites and You Tube in particular, up-to-the-minute news and world happenings are right at our fingertips. Though it is true that most if not all websites, photographs and video streams are biased towards the views of the photographer, anchor or behind-the-scenes crew member (Sontag notes: “Photographs had the advantage of uniting two contradictory features. Their credentials of objectivity were inbuilt. Yet they always had, necessarily, a point of view,”) the stories and images themselves tend to spark an interest in the bigger picture (26). Sontag writes that not all imagery and media are considered equal: “Nonstop imagery (television, streaming video, movies) is out surround, but when it comes to remembering, the photograph has the deeper bite” (22). Inevitably, some Americans will get their news from one source and one source only, but that is a problem in and of it self. I contend instead that a large portion will further research world events learned of from that one small story, video or image: they will want to learn more, and therefore seek out other sources to expand what they already know, ultimately leading to close to a full circle, all-encompassing take on the issue or event.

And yes, I do believe that simply knowing such events are occurring in the world is enough. “Photographs of an atrocity may give rise to opposing responses,” Sontag writes. “A call for peace. A cry for revenge. Or simply the bemused awareness, continually restocked by photographic information, that terrible things happen” (13). Even the most politically active individual cannot possibly be involved in all world issues. By being aware that all the events are happening, individuals can at least take minor or indirect steps to managing the problem at hand such as voting for political candidates, protesting or even taking personal initiative such as (in the case of environmental issues) using less electricity or water. Environment and personality are really what matter when going deeper into world issues on an individual level: Which issue(s) do you have personal interest or expertise in? How can you go about taking steps to remedy it at your current location or in your local community?

As for “art’s” place in war or disaster photography, I think (as cliché as it sounds,) that it all depends on your definition of “art.” Art, to some, is simply paints and canvas. To me, music is art: the more depressing and raw or real world oriented the lyrics tend to be, the better. And that’s not simply because I view the world in a negative light; I just enjoy realism as opposed to idealism. It’s entertaining. War photography can be seen in much the same way. It very often reveals human life and violence in blunt and gruesome ways; a photograph offers no shield or fancy language to dance around the horror of war. As Sontag writes on page 47, “Everyone is a literalist when it comes to photographs.” She continues with this thought a little later in the book: “No sophisticated sense of what photography is or can be will ever weaken the satisfactions of a picture of an unexpected event seized in mid-action by an alert photographer” (55). In other words, the simple fact that the photographer can capture the essence of life and the reality and fast-paced nature of it in a standstill picture, makes it art. Like song lyrics, images that simply depict war as an unsatisfactory reality of life itself make them beautiful and artistic.

Monday, March 17, 2008

Question 1 slightly modified

Paul Farmer, a medical anthropologist and physician, focuses a large majority of his writing and teaching to exposure of and development of solutions for human rights abuses around the world. Though his training lies in clinical medicine, he considers health care a human right and his approach to the treatment of his patients includes the rectification of economic and political rights. Farmer is most famous for his work in Haiti. He frequently forces his readers and students to consider why these inequalities exist and continue to grow internationally. Furthermore, considering the blatent appearance of these inequalities, why isn't more being done to rectify the social constructs that allow these inequalities to exist?

In his talk at the Tanner Lectures on Human Values at the University of Utah, Farmer remarks on the lack of attention given to such human rights abuses, focusing on the lack of access by a majority of the world's population to health care. While most activists point out the already clear apathy reflected in the international community regarding current affairs and human rights abuses such as the growing inaccesibility to social services, increasing "developing world" debt, and violent conflicts such as those in Darfur, Farmer instead asks why?

He presents a photo of a Haitian woman named Lorieze who, unable to receive assistance for the growing pain in her breast, finally received surgery and treatment at the Partners in Health facility in central Haiti. Lorieze's post-mastectomy photo appeared in a photographic exhibit at Harvard University. Several visitors complained about the photo, stating that it was offensive, demanding that it be removed. Farmer asks, "What about this photo, I wonder, prompted such an extreme reaction? It can't be just the depiction of a breast. Is it the suggestion of disease, surgery, pain, and other things we prefer not to think about? Or is the deeper history that the photograph expresses, if we only know how to decipher it?" (Farmer, 172)
Farmer's approach deeply reflects the sentiments of Sontag. Much can be said about this photo, but, as Sontag says about the video on the internet showing David Pearl's brutal executation at the hands of religious wackos in Pakistan, "It is easier to think of the enemy as just a savage that kills, then holds up the head of his prey for all to see." (Sontag, 70) If you look too closely, analyzing the context that gives a photo or video life, you may discover some piece of information that you were intentionally or subconsciously avoiding.
To analyze the historical and institutional structures that permitted Lorieze's breast tumor to consume nearly 100% of the healthy breast tissue is to reveal much of what's wrong with the world today. On the other hand, Sontag points out that such images "carry a double message. They show a suffering that is outraegous, unjust, and should be repaired. They confirm that this is the sort of thing which happens in that place. The ubiquity of those photographs, and those horrors, cannot help but nourish belief in the inevitability of tragedy in the benighted or backward - that is, poor - parts of the world." (Sontag, 71)
Perhaps people are more comfortable with certain famous pictures, for example those from World War I, because they represent something that happened in the past, and, to most of the people still living today, the 1930s are the distant past. Other photographs such as Lorieze's depict modern violence -both structural and physical-, but they nonetheless seem distant. In our society, we have terms associated with the description of the multiple worlds that people seem to pretend exist on earth. For example, "1st world" vs "3rd world" or the equivalent, more politically correct version, "developed world" vs "developing world". These terms push inequalities (healthcare) and violence (Darfur) literally into another world. In this alternate world, these problems are in no way linked to our lives. Sontag argues that images perpetuate this form of absolvement, but I disagree. The fact that people refuse to look at these pictures or to ask why demonstrates the strength of this separation of worlds and the power of images to bridge the gap.
Assuming that I'm right that images help mend the gap, the final analysis that must be made is whether or not the effectiveness of images is compromised by their abundance. Sontag asks, "Does shock have term limits?" (Sontag, 82) Will images of children with swollen bellies and flies on their crusty lips at some point cease to arouse sympathy in viewers? With growing inequalities in the world, leading to more disease, poverty, and violence, media is called on more and more to draw the sympathy of the "developed world". Technology has certainly helped to facilitate this increased demand through better international access to literature, film, and images. As technology improves and, as the word about international social issues continues to proliferate, people are beginning to become desensitized to the pleas of "the other". The problem is that as need for sympathy increases, more images must be circulated; as more images are circulated, less sympathy is available. Sontag's solution is simple: The reason that sympathy dies off after intensified exposure is that "compassion is an unstable emotion. It needs to be translate into action, or it withers." (Sontag, 101)
I made a mistake over spring break. I embarked on a cruise to the western Caribbean with my family, ports of call: Haiti, Jamaica, Grand Cayman, and Mexico. In Haiti, the approximately 100 acres of real estate that we were permitted to explore was owned by Royal Caribbean. It was beautiful: turqoise water, densely-forrested mountains, padded recliners, and tropical drinks abounded. Around the compound, I observed a ten-foot high fence, topped off with barbed wire. There was only once entrance to the compound, which was guarded by Haitian soldiers with big guns. At the one end of the wall, it turned from concrete to steel fence. Upon closer inspection, I noticed dozens of Haitians from the real Haiti hanging on the fence, intently focused on the wealthy cruise passengers inside. I thought about how appropriate it was that even when we visit Haiti we maintain barriers between "us" and "them" in much the same way that our structural adjustment policies and other foreign policies maintain barriers between "us" (developed world) and "them" (developing world) on the grander scale. While lined up to board the tenders to re-embark the ship, a woman behind me in line proclaimed upon observation of the men, women, and children latched to the fence, "that's terrible that we should have to see that kind of stuff on a cruise".
As long as people are unwilling to face the deeper meanings that come with images of inequality and violence, you can be assured that the images maintain their potent effect. If such images were to become commonplace, it would signify that they are being recognized "as part of what a society chooses to think about, or declares that it has chosen to think about." (Sontag, 85) Whether they are afraid of the truth behind the image or their own helplessness in rectifying the issue, many people apparently would prefer not to have to think about Haiti or any other problems of the "developing world". People have certainly seen a great deal of these images, but because nothing has been done to alleviate the suffering of the "developing world", or at least there's no clear light at the end of the tunnel, the sympathy of the "developed world", which is difficult to arouse in the first place due to the nature of the historical truths that accompany suffering, remains at rest.