Deconstruction: exhaustive and boring

Disclaimer: Another post that is actually a comment(s). I know, I'm shameless.

One of the questions that I often end-up asking myself and my profs is “how far do you deconstruct?” I don’t think there is a perfect answer. You do it as long as you can support it logically. When logic stops you stretch it further with metaphors and anecdotes. But even they stop at some point. That’s when you know you need to stop, but some people continue anyway.
I came across this post earlier today. I don’t know much about the people mentioned in the post or even about the actual topic. But as usual, my problem is only with a few arguments the author has drawn. I’ll give you the exchange below.

My comment:

{{What does that even mean? What dignity? Dignity is a quality that lives and dies with a living being. Once you die, along with your clothes, wealth and silicon implants, you also leave your dignity behind. Whose dignity are we then protecting?}} - Good, now let's legalize necrophilia, stealing organs and feeding dead bodies to starving stray dogs (or humans, if you like). They are dead, I'm sure they'll be happy with their "dignity stripped" dead bodies feeding, literally, the needy.

{{Wouldn't you feel that way, if it were you who were the victim?}} - This is a hypothetical question that has no straight answer; even if it's about you. It's like asking "would you kill yourself if you got raped in the butt and had a gun in the drawer?" You cannot assure the way you are going to react if it happens to you, for it has not happened to you. Even if you have a history--of such an ‘event’ and a reaction as you've claimed you'd exhibit--there is no reason to believe that you're going to replicate it (or otherwise).

About pictures being powerful and all: Here, the question "powerful for who, powerful for what?" needs to be asked. You're suggesting a universality that is both factual and benign. Given that you have a problem with unsupported "facts," I don't see where that suggestion of yours is coming from.

His reply (not surprisingly):

I don't see any problems with necrophilia or feeding a body to the dogs or anything else as long as the person (before dying) or the next of kin has given consent. Just like the consent that was apparently given in this case to photograph the body. How about we stop speaking for the victim eh?

I am an organ donor. What that means is after I am dead they will be slicing me up, harvesting my organs and distributing them to other people. All that will be left of me will be a pile of skin and my liver which will be unusable. So basically, I won't be very dignified after I die and hence yes, fuck post mortem dignity. What next, being buried with a jar of caviar Pharaoh style?

Powerful as a prop for the blog post. To imprint the horror of the massacre into the minds of the blogreaders. I already provided facts. Michael J Fox, banning of the coffin pictures. I could go on google and look for more examples

(Did he say “I don’t have a problem with necrophilia?” Elavu da sami!)

My Comment(2):

{{How about we stop speaking for the victim eh?}} – That’s exactly what you are doing. When you say "I would do this if it happened to me," what you are actually saying is "I would do this if I become a victim." In essence you as a non-victim are talking for you as a victim. To make it even shorter, you are the one who's talking for the victim.

About you being an organ donor: As gory as you make it sound, it's quite commonplace, we all know that. In fact, the Parsis let their dead bodies be consumed by vultures (even today they have those 'places' in Bombay and other major cities). That's not the point. None of these rhetorics apply to victims, because no victim is victimized by consent. Or someone who's "victimized" by consent is not a victim at all (victim of brainwashing or psychosis, may be).

Your "facts" are non-sequitur. First, there's no concrete study that suggests that the said "power" has always invoked expected response. Second, the response that it invokes need not necessarily be "positive" or "negative", or, as I mentioned before, one that was desired by those who initiated the "power". If you "go on google and look for more examples," I'll be happy to return the favour. Only that I'll be pulling out examples that say the exact opposite (ex: propaganda videos).

Images arrest the reality that your mind corresponds to with reality that matches a wider consensus (sometimes both are close). Words on the other hand let your mind make its own image - that could very well be more "powerful" (and disturbing) than the actual image itself. It's the age old book vs. movie debate. The arguments go both ways.

Besides, are bloggers so numb that they cannot "react" for 'rape and murder' but to the image the "captures" it? What kind of "reaction" is that? And all these reactions, supposedly, are directed towards justice (at least in legal parlance within this case's context) and awareness. But, does justice need to immerse itself into this "power" as well? Even if it does, can't it do the same without an image? That is, a judge's ruling based on the police report1that says "girl was brutally raped, and murdered by slashing her throat" different from one based on an "image depicting" it?
1 I know, the police reports contain everything; photos, forensic evidences and what not.

Update: The exchange continued. You can read it all here.


The Individualist said...

Well, to be honest, I found that his need for offering a justification for the posting of those pictures irritated me more than the actual posting of the pictures. In fact, I doubt if the latter was irritating at all. The justification obviously left a lot to be desired.
"Pictures are much more powerful than words and that is a fact."
I didn't like that sentence too. And I didn't have much patience to go ahead and read the brawls of blogosphere. Phew.
And before I skip away, I'll ask you something. What do you think about the posting of those pictures? Agreeable or not? And why so?
(Please tell me am not sounding like a BBC reporter. :D)

Suresh said...

haha no you don't sound like a reporter.
Sudhir, you know how wary I am when it's about making a moral judgment. And I know you're not seeking legal advice. So I'll avoid both perspectives. As for its intended purpose, I don't think it was necessary. As I had said, just words would have done it, at least among the so called educated people (educated enough to read blogs).
It also opens up a new dimension to this discussion. I use to visit quite often, a few years ago (when I got introduced to the site). As you might already know there are several gruesome images. I don't know if the word means the same to me like it did 5 years ago. And that's what I find interesting. The more you get exposed to "gruesome" pictures, the less severe the meaning of the word gruesome becomes. 5 years ago I would throw up at the sight of a fractured bone, now a disemboweled body doesn't make me half as nauseated. Our mind gets doctored to take images of bloody organs easily over time (pun intended). Horror movies use this technique so well. That's why you find 'The ring' more scary than 'Evil dead'.

I think this is a good place to mention it: The following paragraph might be used and developed further in blog-post here. So evana pathu nan copy adikala!

I want to talk about the idea of rape conceived by men (men getting raped that is). Because, lately every third movie that I watch deals with boys getting molested or men getting raped. Or both like in 'Mysterious Skin'. The movie did not disturb as much (it supposed to be). I can say I would have terribly disturbed had it been about girls/women. It was even brought up a recent South Park episode.

Oh no, it's got nothing to do with my personal life.

I said...

dude, serious arguments are a waste of time and energy.. When will u ever learn?

Suresh said...

{{dude, serious arguments are a waste of time and energy.. When will u ever learn?}} - When you learn that the 'time and energy' that's supposedly wasted is not yours.

Priya said...

Hi Suresh and Sudhir,

Interesting discussion here about photography. Have you read the book that Susan Sontag wrote On Photography? It's called "Regarding the Pain of Others." She has described in it about how photographs objectify. And she has said something about how shock has term limits, like what Suresh has mentioned here {The more you get exposed to "gruesome" pictures, the less severe the meaning of the word gruesome becomes.} I'll give some quotes:

(She gives an example of how the public health authorities in Canada put shock-photographs on cigarette packs. Then she goes on saying that research has shown that photo-warning inspires a smoker to quit 60 times more than a mere word-warning)

"Let's assume this is true. But one might wonder, for how long? Does shock have term limits? Right now the smokers in Canada are recoiling in disgust, if they do look at these pictures. will those smoking 5 years from still be upset? Shock can become familiar. Shock can wear off. Even if it doesn't one can not look...As one can become habituated to horror in real life, one can become habituated to the horror of certain images.

Yet there are cases where exposure to what shocks, saddens, appalls does not use up a full-hearted response. Habituation is not automatic, for images obey different rules than real life. Representations of the Crucifixion do not become banal to believers, if they really are believers. This is even truer of staged representations. The ta'ziyah drama of the betrayal and murder of Imam Hussayn does not cease to bring an iranian audience to tears no matter how many times they have seen the martyrdom enacted... Pathos, in the form of a narrative, does not wear out."

Her book is really good. You can check out here:

Anonymous said...

"In essence you as a non-victim are talking for you as a victim."

very good counter argument. I read the comments in gawker's page. I like your points, well put.

The Individualist said...

True @ humans getting accustomed to the effects of watching a graphic description.
I do believe though, that pictures work well with the masses. When I say masses, I intend to mean the illiterate population and even that part of the literate population that lacks imagination. I do believe that you need a certain level of imagination to really understand the magnificence of something you read. But that imagination, I don't think is necessary if it is a graphic description of the same situation. Thus, to present a situation in its magnificence, if it is your motive to speak to an uncivilised crowd, do show images and videos. Remember that I compare only with a written description and a graphic description and not a vocalised one.

Badri said...

After reading the exchange I thought I must tell you that it is a bad idea to start an argument with insults. There are subtler methods that can have a piercing effect.

Also, I don't see how your post is deconstructing his article. I only see a couple of sentences buried in a sea of insults and ad hominem attacks. Why did you even post this?

Suresh said...

Ennada solra? Where have I insulted him? There's hardly any ad-hominem attack in my exchange with him. Are you referring to the original post?

Badri said...

It's my mistake. I am so used to seeing "Given that you don't have a problem with unsupported facts" that I read your sentence "Given that you *have* a problem with unsupported facts" like so. I also noticed that when you copied your comment, you left out a mild insult "Weak!". Considering my state of mind in the middle of an all-nighter, you should be able to see how I came to a hasty conclusion.

Anyway, you did not respond to his naive question asking why it is offensive to feed a corpse to a dog if you have the consent of the deceased. You did not agree or disagree with his statement regarding consent. {{Did he say “I don’t have a problem with necrophilia?” Elavu da sami!}} is a useless comment.

There was also a misinterpretation of his statement "How about we stop speaking for the victim eh?" which in the context of his post should mean "When you have the consent of the family for the photograph, who see it as an appropriate action, why do *you* want to kick any fuss?".

Finally the biggest culprit which might have caused my hasty conclusion about your analysis could be my stance. I happen to agree with him on three things:

(1) Dignity is overrated.
(2) Censorship is unnecessary and also condescending. By advocating it, you are making a moral judgment that people are more likely to be influenced in a negative fashion if pictures of crime are shown. On the other hand, if you think that the reaction is going to be one of shock or disgust , you would be supporting his view that pictures are more powerful.
(3) With the possible exception of a few people who go to to see gore or blood, people are more likely to be desensitized by words that have lost their expressive power due to overuse. There is a general apathy among people who dismiss "100 civilians killed in Iraq" as "collateral damage". Why not use other mediums of expression, when you can and when you want to?

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