Why are the images of Haiti so graphic?

by on January 18, 2010 at 7:50 am in Current Affairs | Permalink

By the way, I favor such graphicness, but I am wondering:

The images coming out of Haiti are more graphic than those from recent natural disasters, and the ongoing wars in Iraq and Afghanistan…

Or is Haiti simply an exception? Is there something about the essential status of the entire country and its people that gives the media new license?

The usual conventions of suggesting rather than displaying trauma seem to have been punctured, at least for now. Bodies caked in dust and plaster, faces covered in blood, the dead stacked in the streets without sheets to hide them — these are all violations of the unwritten code that death can only be seen, in the established etiquette of the mainstream media, by analogy or metaphor or discreet substitute.

Here is more detail.  You'll note there is a long history of portraying Haiti in lurid terms.

Andrew January 18, 2010 at 7:59 am

I was wondering basically the same thing as watching 60 minutes last night.

It made the reporters seem detached to be watching bulldozers full of corpses driving around while asking pointed questions.

AF January 18, 2010 at 9:12 am

I think it is a trend that has been happening for a while. As people become more used to being able to find full, unsanitized information on the internet, they are demanding the same of photographic information. Outlets like Boston.com’s “The Big Picture” have led the way in having large format, graphic photos available for tragedies (as well as other important events). At least judging from that one outlet (it has served as a model for other outlets) it is not particular to Haiti.

Iran
http://www.boston.com/bigpicture/2010/01/three_days_in_iran.html

L’Aquila Earthquake
http://www.boston.com/bigpicture/2009/04/the_laquila_earthquake.html

I will say I have seen more in the “stacks of bodies” category coming from Haiti but I suspect this is because of the complete breakdown of emergency aid and inability to get foreign aid into these areas.

k January 18, 2010 at 10:14 am

Or they feel it’s ok to interview people that are still trapped under the rubble
After the eruption of el Nevado a 5 yo girl was trapped in a pit . There was no way to rescue her. But in tv, images of her were broadcasted until the last sigh of life left her

Walt January 18, 2010 at 11:16 am

Aren’t all images graphic?

DaveL January 18, 2010 at 11:43 am

I don’t agree with the claim. Images of death are shown fairly often in the media these days, especially death from natural disasters. The Boston Globe’s Big Picture feature (which I highly recommend) is particularly prone to use them, but they put a click-through link on such photos warning they are graphic.

I suspect any reluctance to show graphic images of Americans is more about potential litigation than about any “code.”

Alex J. January 18, 2010 at 12:28 pm

There are rules which prevent the photographing of prisoners of war, for one.

Mario January 18, 2010 at 1:57 pm

I have to go with racism (oddly, though, it’s racism that could be working in the victim’s favor). It’s like nudity in National Geographic; it would only be pornographic if the subjects were “like us.”

I’m not one to point to racism in general, but in this case I think it’s pretty clear. We wouldn’t be seeing this if it were a Canadian disaster.

sapka January 18, 2010 at 3:33 pm

Because it is not the USA. After 11/9 the images showed outside the USA were far graphic than the images you saw at american networks.
The images of the tsunami, the El Salvador flood were equally graphic. Not to mention the now old Nevado del Río eruption in Colombia.Or the images of the capii in Mexico

wevin January 18, 2010 at 5:07 pm

What do you suppose it looks like when you pull bodies out of rubble?

If anything, I think photo editors are selecting for narrative and dramatic effect. The most universally resonant images are tableaus of children being extricated, but there are only so many of those.

IMHO, the real problem is expressing the scope and urgency of the matter without desensitizing or otherwise distancing viewers. You want people to get a sense for the surreal magnitude of the devastation and suffering, but not at the expense of identification.

And let’s face it: The more sensational the image, the more valuable it is.

Marian Kechlibar January 19, 2010 at 4:45 am

Blah, racism, blah blah, racism, blah, racism… how predictable. Some Americans seem determined to have racism with coffee every morning.

Me, I remember the Bosnian war of 1990s and the extremely graphic images thereof, which kept hitting Euro media for years. Comparable to Haiti… And, ya know, Bosniaks are a white Slavic nation.

Sinister Motives January 19, 2010 at 1:12 pm

They’re foreigners. Little brown people.

It’s instructive, when there’s been a disaster in South America, to compare ABC CBS NBC’s coverage with TeleMundo’s or other spanish language news outlets.

The english news show and describe “A woman whose house is gone.” For the audience it’s some foreigner far away.

The spanish news interviews Maria Alvarez and has her tell how she feels about loosing her house. For the audience it’s a neighbor back home. The emotional and personal connection is strikingly more immediate.

Joe January 19, 2010 at 1:28 pm

Occam’s Razor: To fill air time and column inches. What other news story is there? None.

Banjo January 19, 2010 at 1:48 pm

It’s racism. Everything is.

ken in sc January 19, 2010 at 2:51 pm

For God’s sake, we cannot allow any Haitians to adopt any of these Haitian refugee children who come to the US. Adoption in Haiti is a form of slavery. They will starve, beat, and neglect these children to death. Google modern slavery.

submandave January 19, 2010 at 2:58 pm

What we see today in Haiti is what we saw on TV in the 40s, 50s, late 60s, and early 70s. The result was a public that wanted to do something about it, which meant stopping the Korea “police action” and getting out of Southeast Asia aka Vietnam.

Are you serious? Do you honestly believe that TV in the ’40s (regular network broadcasts, by the way, did not begin until 1946, well after the end of WWII) regularly featured graphic depictions of the death and violence happening abroad? Considering the marked lack of such in the contemporaneous News Reels, I find this premise ridiculous. The same for the ’50s?

Graphic depection of war in popular US news media did not happen until after the Tet offensive in 1968, when an anti-US involvement in Vietnam sentiment predominent in the media coupled with a desire to use graphic an dnegative imagery to affect public opinion.

In short, your thesis that this is some grand US government clamp-down in recent history is ignorant and unsupported in the extreme, seeming to be more influenced by a general paranoia about nefarious US government intents than actual data.

Brian G. January 19, 2010 at 3:20 pm

It is starting to look to me that the U.S. military is trying to colonize Haiti and steal its natural resources. Why else would the military be so quick to occupy the place? After all, what better time to move in when there is chaos? I think the U.S. should stop preventing the U.N. from doing its job and let the U.N. do what it does best, help people at their biggest time of need.

Robert January 19, 2010 at 9:33 pm

After the Sichuan earthquake I saw rows of little bodies, children looking like broken dolls, parents crying over the body of their only child†¦

The neat rows of brightly-coloured backpacks, lined up like tombstones, were heartbreaking enough. But there was blood and death and tears too.

http://www.flickr.com/photos/facts/2494564230/sizes/o/
http://www.flickr.com/photos/etherflyer/2543181208/
http://www.flickr.com/photos/etherflyer/2543181208/

I don’t see the Haiti coverage being more graphic. What’s being shown on your local media may be more graphic — I don’t know where you usually get your news — but the images themselves aren’t anything I haven’t seen before.

Craig January 20, 2010 at 4:40 am

@Mark in Texas

Cynical? Maybe.

“Most bonkers conspiracy theory thus far in thread”, certainly.

All the best…

Simon January 20, 2010 at 9:27 am

Photo’s of dead soldiers affect future soldiers participating in current and future wars which is why the Bush administration censored pictures in Iraq for example.

Haiti is not on Western radars for future war participation from it’s population. These heart wrenching pictures are actually bringing out volunteers very possibly. I would not be too quick to call this racism at this point.

meganshuang January 22, 2010 at 9:38 pm

above this all controversies, we have only one goal.. to help Haitians community.. please help by donating any necessities to the victims of earthquake in haiti.. any help counts..
please check this video:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6fPjDcDGuGk&hd=1 or visit. http://www.standwithhaiti.com .. we need your cooperation.. please spread this word.. thanks

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