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Thursday, 20 October 2011

The Gadaffi Exception

It should not be banned...

...but as a matter of taste one would really not expect death porn to be broadcast on television news and mainstream media websites...

...indeed, one would have thought that as a matter of simple decency the last few moments before a violent death of a fellow human being would not be used as some snuff spectacle like a latter-day public hanging...

...unless, it would seem, the death is that of Gadaffi.



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25 comments:

nicktheowl said...

Agree entirely. The consensus that Gadaffi's death is "good" and will allow Libya's people to "move forward" is strange and ghoulish in the extreme. I've seen people from Portillo to Left Foot Forward rubbing their hands in glee tonight - and in LFF's case, fantasising about which dictator might be next for the rope. Is this how we do foreign policy now - help forces to fight against a dictator, then make a snuff movie of his murder?

JamesTheHat said...

@nicktheowl

As foreign policy against dictators goes, though, it's probably quite effective.

I'm sure that many dictators are very, very scared by the UK's sudden change in policy both in message and in practical application.

Elly said...

I agree and have blogged about this at my Guardian Watch site.

I don't know what else to say.

http://graunwatch.wordpress.com/2011/10/20/this-is-a-low/

rjh01 said...

I think it is important that the death of any VIP be proven. In the west a death certificate would be enough. However in certain parts of the world such as the middle East visual confirmation would be required.This is one such case. Put it on late night TV and YouTube after a warning.

nicktheowl said...

@JamestheHat - I don't think it shows any kind of strength or intent in our foreign policy, more like impotence in bringing dictators to justice and a willingness to ride on the coat-tails of other people's murderous rage. That doesn't make me particularly proud.

patosgood said...

A fine exception it is too.

TO previous commenters: "We" did not kill Gaddafi. "We" did not make "a snuff movie of his murder. The Libyans did.

The war in Libya lasted six months, and comprise in the main street-to-street fighting, the use of improved weapons, cluster bombs and air strikes, with all but the latter deployed by a ruthless army, mercenaries or inexperienced militias.

Accordingly, the war has been bloody, to the tune of some 40-50,000 military casualties.

Libyans seem happy to record and show what they did to their tyrant, and seem relieved that, after an overlong final chapter, the war is over.

Those of us who have been keeping close tabs on the conflict throughout, and who have made use of new media to do so, Gaddafi's corpse is but the latest of many. It's actually pretty mild stuff compared to what's been coming out of Syria, where government forces have been firing anti-aircraft rounds into civilian crowds.

The news media in the UK has so far presented a bowdlerised picture of the war, showing Toyotas rolling through towns and the like.

If you supported the interdiction in Libya, the sight of Gaddafi dead is part of your reckoning of what you supported.

If you did not, you have an image which shows the violence and barbarism that lies behind the euphemistic language of political tough-talk and military-speak.

I remember a lot of the commentators echoing David's view now cribbing during the Iraq war that it was bowdlerised for TV; that even flag-draped coffins of US soldiers were not shown, that embedded coverage became propaganda.

Well, here's the real deal. Here's war; here's the one death for which tens of thousands died.

Here - and this is crucial - is what will happen to other dictators if their people have theor opportunity to lay hands on them.

Here's media without mediatisation, because after all, in order to be informed you’re asking others to look at it for you and tell you it soft; here’s you’re a properly liberal coverage of war that now more closely tracks the chaos of the thing itself, and follows the subject to its conclusion.

The picture of Gaddafi not “death porn”: it’s just one dead man.

If you find it pornographic it is because you have been raised on much softer stuff. Would that Libyans or Syrians or Egyptians had such virginal eyeballs.

To ask that the image of Gaddafi’s corpse be hidden from view as a matter of “taste” – something to be waved away like an unappetising entree - is an exercise in moral feebleness and evasion.

Wasi said...

Thank you so much for writing/posting this - it pretty much sums up what I was trying (and pretty much failing) to express earlier today as I watched twitter and facebook flood with glee and jubilation at the death. One friend wrote that she had just seen and been distressed by a video of people kicking the corpse. I've made a point of not turning on any news, or following any youtube links, as I'm worried at what I'll see - either graphic detail of the death itself, or the celebration around it.

What disturbs most of all (though perhaps doesn't surprise maybe as much as it should) are the politicians gathering round, joyfully expressing their contentment with the outcome.

Skeptiverse said...

Seeing the footage just about made me bring up my breakfast. It was displayed constantly on prime time morning news here in Australia.

I do not see why it is necessary for news services to broadcast the footage where a simple "Gadaffi has been confirmed dead" would suffice.

It is sickening, dehumanising and rather tasteless.

g_12 said...

We're falling into the American idea that when the "comic book bad guy" dies it's a glorious moment to be seen in vivid colour. Not The Batman, of course, he refuses to kill...

Stephen Curry said...

I'm in two minds about this. Yes the images are lurid and shocking, and will stoke predictable reactions of misplaced triumphalism. But this is a war that the British public was involved in. Our government committed our forces; our Nato allies (the French air-force, I understand) attacked Gaddafi's convoy yesterday, killing dozens, perhaps wounding Gaddafi and creating the opportunity for the NTC militias to catch up with the fallen leader. I don't for a moment condone what seems to have been a brutal and summary execution but I wonder if there is some merit in the British public seeing exactly the consequences of policies or actions which have been carried out on their behalf. I don't think it is the job of the media to insulate us from these realities though I appreciate tastes will vary.

gimpy said...

'Death porn'? Perhaps you see it as such, but everybody will interpret those pictures of Gadaffi differently and it would be a bit Daily Mail to assume your particular reaction confirms your moral superiority.

Personally, I think the delicate sensitivities of some media commentators in shying away from the grisly realities of death is more troublesome.

teekblog said...

more or less my thoughts exactly Jack of Jent. rjh01 says that the death of a VIP should be proven, and that in the case of the likes of Gadaffi visual proof is required. Fine, show a still from the video - and not just because we are weak of stomach and wouldn't like our tea spoiled, but because revelling in the bloody death of even a dictator is not becoming of anyone interested in peace and justice - the supposed reason to want the end of his regime.
The need to see him dead explains why Libiyans themselves made/broadcast the footage. It doesn't explain why British news needs to show it in full on loop with triumphant commentary. It doesn't explain or justify commentators' glee at Gadaffi's death - not least given that a true commitment to justice would require his capture alive and trial, not his brutal murder. And it certainly doesn't justify the likes of the Sun newspaper (I know we shouldn't expect high standards from them, but still..) screaming "THAT'S FOR LOCKERBIE" on its front page, using his death picture as a poster for revenge.

g_12 I know what you mean, I'd go as far as to say that condemning Palestinians for partying on 9/11 makes the reaction of some to bin Laden's death seem hypocritical, and I think the same applies to Gadaffi - the death of anyone, no matter how evil, is not something to be used as a propaganda tool or a message to scare off others, not in this way anyway...

xtaldave said...

FWIW, I think that whilst it should be published behind a warning to prevent people inadvertently being exposed to something so gruesome, it is in the public interest and as such it is newsworthy.

I do think that referring to it as "death porn" is a bit much. It is graphic and disturbing. But nobody is expecting you to find pleasure or titillation in it, are they?

Simon said...

Misuse of the word "snuff" - this is not a killing carried out for the purposes of commercially exploiting the resulting footage. As for "death porn" - that's a ridiculously emotive phrase that implies some sort of sexual gratification in the footage. Please don't resort to tabloid-speak.

Much worse stuff is broadcast on the TV and shown in newspapers all the time. That doesn't make it right, but I think we're all grown up enough to be able to handle the sight of a dead body.

Gordon Rae said...

So far, I haven't met anybody who likes the photographs of Gaddafi. I have seen it circulated by people who want *me* to look at it so that I can understand how outraged *they* are.

People who are opposed to the publication of the picture show it to everyone they know. Shurely shome mishtake?

AnonymousHoward said...

I think to a certain extent, yes, there is an exception. If not an exception, there's certainly a difference between a bloodied Gaddaffi, Mussolini on a lampost or the Ceausescus in a basement, and footage of a murdered young woman's flat. The latter is purely prurient; the others might serve some useful and just purpose

In a country that has been oppressed for forty years, seeing your oppressor defeated and humiliated might be psychologically liberating, empowering, and, for the nation as a whole, liberating. In a region prone to conspiracy theory and mistrust of (generally corrupt and state-controlled) media, clear evidence that he is defeated might be needed.

And, one would hope, there might be a certain pour encourager les autres effect on the world's other dictators. Maybe, the thought that they will end up hanging from a lamppost or slumped in a basement will give some of them reason to pause before committing their crimes.

Another thing to consider is whether the Western approach to death is the right one. In much Middle Eastern media, formal and informal, violent deaths are reported and represented in detail. Would Western citizens be as acquiescent in their governments' acts of aggression in the region, or support for, say, Israeli violence in Palestine or Saudi brutality in Bahrain, if the six o'clock news regularly showed children shot in the head (don't worry, nothing visually graphic) or beaten doctors?

Is our own head in the sand comfort in pretending politics doesn't have violent consequences a good thing, or does it allow us to act for our own benefit without thinking of the damage to others?

AnonymousHoward said...

Arggh, really should read preview properly. Meant to say in para 2, "for the nation as a whole, unifying", not "liberating".

Fiona Hanley said...

I thought there'd be a heartburst of celebration and relief for Libya that this dreadful man couldn't hurt anyone anymore. Instead the hot topic on twitter was whether it was ok to show his death on tv and press. It's just disappointing that we latched onto this one issue, that we couldn't or wouldn't engage in a broader way. I wondered how a Libyan citizen would have felt looking at UK and Irish twitter last night.

Having said that, no, I don't think it's ok to show death and corpses on the media. I'm surprised it wasn't discussed when Michael Jackson's body was shown recently. It's a matter of decency and humanity. We fortunate westerners are part of a civilised society. By that I mean we have access to enough food, heat, education, health, social welfare if we need it. We can speak freely without fear of imprisonment and torture. We can have a reasonable expectation that our governments, police forces and judicial systems are not corrupt. So yes, patosgood, we've been raised on 'softer' stuff if that's what you wish to call it. I'm very grateful for my accident of birth. As such it behoves us to behave in a civilised fashion. Whooping and joking at the lynching of a human being is not civilised.

Gadaffi had a savage death at the hands of a people he brutalised. This was a man who conducted a public hanging of students during the call for morning prayers in Ramadan. Libyan citizens had none of the freedoms we take for granted. It would absolutely have been better if Gadaffi had stood trial but unfortunately given the international community's attitude to date, Libyan citizens did not have a reasonable expectation that this man would be brought to justice in an international court.

Maybe that's why we all honed in on the rights and wrongs of the media coverage of his death. We couldn't celebrate with Libya because we'd have had to acknowledge our own culpability. Gadaffi would have been out of harm's way long ago the global political will had been there to put a stop to his savagery.

Malcolm Bradbrook said...

Had to agree and blogged my own thoughts that the mass media is simply unable to resist, even though it should be a key element of their being.

http://mbradbrook.blogspot.com/2011/10/death-porn-and-gadaffi.html

Andrew said...

The Libyans and others in the Middle East may need to see the images of Gaddafi's death to be certain that he is in fact dead. We certainly don't.

But I take the point above that taking military action is ultimately about killing or injuring people for a political purpose, and we should not be squeamish about what it means in practice (but must take pains to avoid getting involved in it where we can).

Compare the extrajudicial killings of Osama Bin Laden or Anwar al-Awlaki at the hands of the US, with the death of Gaddafi at the hands of his own people (either in the heat of the moment - hardly the worst thing that has happened in this messy civil war - or by accident, if you believe the Libyan authorities), and the execution of Saddam Hussein after a criminal trial and conviction.

Would David oppose the death penalty for Saddam? Or the right of the Iraqis to decide for themselves?

Doctor Zorro said...

It seems western nations can't win. If we stand back and let it all happen while staying out of it we are accused of "riding on their shirt tails," of moral cowardice and uncaring cynicism. If we do step in we are accused of imperialism and acting purely out of self interest. Make your minds up boys.

Kate said...

I pretty much agree with Fiona. Why is this about images of his dead body and not the Libyan people?

But if that's what's being talked about...I'm trying my best to put my personal feelings about it to one side. The press is graceless and undignified, big surprise. I don't know what the majority of the Libyan people who've seen images of Gaddafi's body think, or how they are reacting, but I can't imagine what it must be like to have lived under such oppression for my entire life so it's not my place to judge.

The sight of someone who has presented themselves as more or less superhuman for decades on end reduced to nothing more than a bloody corpse dragged out from a water pipe has had quite an effect on me, I have to admit (even though it's not the first time that sort of thing has happened). But that's nothing to do with anyone else except me. The few Libyan people I have met and spoken to about Gaddafi while he was still alive (and when he was still powerful) have shown such powerful feelings about what he's done with their country that I feel like it's really none of my business. I observed a Libyan asylum appeal a few months ago, when Gaddafi was under siege, and a big chunk of it involved the Home Office presenting officer trying to undermine a teenage girl's fear of a man who had been the dictator of her country for her entire life. He was just doing his job but I felt pretty uncomfortable and it highlighted the gulf between us and them.

Anyway, I'm waffling now. I'm opposed to the death penalty, so I can't support his killing, and I don't like the press cashing in on gory images to sell papers, but you can't automatically expect a dictator to be treated with justice in a place where justice doesn't exist yet.

twaza (@wassabeee on twitter) said...

The tabloids outdid the TV media with their revolting schadenfreude: "That's for Lockerbie. And Yvonne Fletcher. And IRA Semtex victims"

Alice said...

Maybe it is a matter of taste, and maybe proof is required - but I felt extremely sick when I went into a newsagents and saw the front pages of the tabloids, and I imagine the footage would have been a lot worse. (I did see another picture of Gaddafi "at his lowest ebb" on Twitter - embracing Tony Blair - which was pretty funny!)

If you topple a dictator, though, you must be aware that you yourself may be toppled at any time too. Better then to treat the dictator as you'd want to be treated if you were toppled.

ALbert - Australia said...

ding dong the witch is dead.....

remember he stayed and fought in a town when he could have fought in the desert (no human shields) or even fled the country (alive with a tonne of money) but he didn't ...

I guess he got what he had shown people they could do by doing the same to them for his 40 years of cruelty...