Voyerism and Tragedy

Go back to the worst day in your life.

Maybe it was the day you found out your dad died, or the day you discovered your mom had a car accident, or the time you found a lump. Remember the emotion, the pain, the grief, the fear that came with the news. Sit there for a moment.

Now imagine , in the midst of that pain, someone stuck a camera in your face.

When we hear about tragedies like Boston we typically rush to the television or internet and see the pictures of bloodstained concrete, tearful families hugging one another, and frantic rescue workers doing their duties. You don’t see the (wo)man with the camera, standing in the midst of the fray snapping photographs with all the subtlety of a rat scampering through the walls. Next time you’re on the internet looking at one of these tragedies, find a photo (well available at the time of this writing on any news site)  of someone holding a crying friend and loved one. Notice that, typically, one person has their back to the camera. They’re doing that because they’re putting their back to the camera.

In my experience, photographers on site usually employ pushing and intrusive methods to get those spectacular photographs that they then sell to newspapers. While the blood still stains the scene, they transmit their photographs, usually with dreams of winning a prestigious award for the inevitable photo essay that will go on to publication in a coffee table book, portfolio, or other medium that documents the strength of their work. Worst of all, we unknowingly participate and sanction this kind of work as we stare and devour any and all visual information available.

Admittedly, when I put fingers to keyboard to write this post, I intended to create a scathing indictment of the kind of person who stands with a camera and takes pictures while others around them suffer. I then intended to decry the voyeuristic nature of our consumer society which seems to feed on this kind of information like a tick on a deer. Three sentences in, I recognized both the futility and hypocrisy of those approaches.

I instead appeal to your humanity. The next time you see one of those photos, I urge you to do the following:

  1. Pray for the salvation, safety, and healing of the survivors; for justice; for the salvation of the perpetrators; for the wisdom and insight of the investigators.
  2. Talk to your family, and remind them that you love them.
  3. Reconcile any relationships that have gone astray, insofar as you can.
  4. Live your life as if this might happen to you (which means that you should consider your real priorities).

Let the pictures of these tragedies lead you—not into the distanced observation and curiosity of others’ pain—but into hope and a reminder of the things to come, in light of the things as they are. Let tragedy lead you into a response of faith.

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April 16, 2013 · 9:01 am

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