For a media culture that’s saturated with violence and death, we are reluctant to post images of real-life violence and death.
That’s probably why these two news photographs, published in the span of a couple of days, caught my attention:
It’s not often that we see images of corpses in newspapers and on television. I call this the hidden face of death, and it takes many forms.
Remember the ban on images of caskets of U.S. military personnel who had been killed in action? The ban was in place for almost 20 years before reversal in 2009. The ban did not negate the fact that our soldiers were dying. With the ban, was it too easy to ignore that fact?
If we don’t see photos of the dead from Ukraine and Nepal, is it too easy to ignore what’s going on there, too? Do images of the dead make violence more real? Maybe too real?
The media used to love images of graphic violence. One of my favorite books is Strange Days, Dangerous Nights by Larry Millett, published by the Minnesota Historical Society Press in 2004. The book is a collection of photographs in Twin Cities newspapers from the speed graphic era (1930s-1950s). The result was gritty images of murder, accidents, gore and general mayhem.
Somewhere along the line, it was decided that the public couldn’t handle those types of images. Our front pages and TV screens became sanitized, which reflects our attitudes toward death in our culture as a whole.