There have been more than a few tragic images presented to us by the media lately. We are shown pictures of sick people and told that they are the victims of "dangerous, 'new'" ways of getting high. Migrant children are seen suffering in cages at the hands of an oppressive presidential regime. The aftermath of slaughters are recorded and played on a loop on CNN for days at a time. Those things, alone would be fine. We have a right to know what is happening in the world and we should occasionally be moved by it. However, those pictures and stories are not alone when they are presented to us by agenda driven groups and individuals. There is always a "snake" in a suit and heavy makeup (for the cameras) who shows us the chaos in the world and tells us what we should fear and who we should direct our anger towards. However, the narratives that we are fed along with tragic imagery does not always reflects reality and often seems to favorably advance the presenters' positions. I believe that it is important to keep this in mind because now is a time in which that those of us in the United States are being bombarded by a particularly heavy wave of political bullshit. We are divided, many of us are pathologically dogmatic about our beliefs, and we are suspicious of the "other." Unsurprisingly, there those who look to exploit these weaknesses. Elections are coming and the powerful are already trying to sway the herd to one camp or the other by showing us all of their sad and terrifying imagery. If we hope to guard ourselves from their attempts to cloud our judgment and steal our support, we must understand the picture "game" that they are trying to play against us.
Take the issue of the treatment of illegal immigrants in this country as a prime example of the cynical use of tragic imagery to gain public support. It is true that these people are subjected to a terrible ordeal because the are thrust into a system that is designed to remove them from this society by force. The left has recently (and justifiably) been very vocal about denouncing the system as it exists. However, few of the powerful people in that camp mention that they have, themselves, helped to build and maintain the inhumane machine that we currently employ to enforce immigration law. The emotional appeals and pictures of crying children are effective political ammunition but their use is cynical. If the people presenting them were to come into power again, I suspect that they would suddenly lose interest in the suffering of migrants and continue mistreating them just like every other political party and presidential administration has in the past.
Sometimes, the same image is exploited by different propagandists to achieve completely different purposes. Whenever a mass killing takes place, people come out of the woodwork and try to pin responsibility on their political opponents and generate misplaced fear among the masses while by showing us pictures of the dead and wounded. Groups and individuals who oppose the gun industry and fear an armed population say that "assault weapons" (which is a highly nebulous and misleading term) are the cause of the violence. Those who profit from the gun industry hold up the same gory image and say that a lack of sufficiently armed citizens led to the death and destruction and that we must go out and buy more guns in order to protect ourselves. Others say that violent art is the problem and call for mass censorship. However, none of those things seems to address the issue that we face. That is to say, we have a number of violent and unstable individuals among us and we have few means to identify them and stop them from commuting acts of violence. These people weren't made into monsters by video games, they aren't afraid of our weapons, and if we take their's away, they will just find another. The solutions that we are given are ineffective by design because are not meant to solve a problem. Instead, they are intended to serve the agenda of the propagandist who holds the frightening photograph.
Those who seek to mislead us are opportunistic and as new tragedies arise, they will exploit them to new ends. The war on weed has been winding down for years but now a few people have died after vaping questionable liquid out of a bootlegged cartage and I have already seen the prohibitionists taking this opportunity to demonize cannabis like it's the fucking Reagan era again. This problem could be solved by the expansion of the legal market but instead of mentioning that, I am shown pictures of people in hospital beds and told that they got that way because they "abused marijuana." This is the exploitation of death and suffering to achieve a desired end and we should sickened by it
The trust and support of the governed enables their governance. In order for the powerful to remain powerful, the people must accept their power and come to rely on it. Because that is the case, those with power have an incentive to sway public opinion in their favor. If the powerful are corrupt (as they often are) they will use misleading and emotional means to drum up support among the masses. That being the case, I think that we are justified in being suspicious of anyone who dangles a tragic picture in front of us and tells us how we should feel about it.
All the images in this post are sourced from the free image website, unsplash.com.