Images of the dead – a plea for humanity

Trigger warning: this post contains descriptions of graphic images including death, disfigurement, violence, abuse, and suicide.

Trigger warning: this post contains descriptions of graphic images including death, disfigurement, violence, abuse, and suicide

I don’t need to see a photo of Luke Batty lying battered in the morgue to bear witness to the senseless domestic violence that stole his young life.

I don’t need to see a photo of Jill Meagher dumped in a shallow grave to bear witness to the flawed justice system that placed her in the path of the parolee who raped and murdered her.

And I don’t need to see a photo of Charlotte Dawson, dressed in a favourite green dress hanging above the French windows in her apartment to bear witness to the harm that online abuse can have on the mentally fragile.

I don’t need to see any of these images, or even to imagine them, to be deeply moved by these deaths, appalled by the circumstances that led to them, and know that they have brought unfathomable grief to others.

If you are shocked, offended or deeply troubled by me desecrating the dead by evoking these images then you’ll have glimpsed how I feel when forcibly presented with photos of the dead by people who refuse to mark such images as sensitive material on social media.

In the past couple of weeks, mostly when monitoring Twitter feeds on a large screen in a workplace, I’ve witnessed battered children lying in morgues, the bodies of men and women dumped in shallow graves, and three women who’d been hung in a tree.

I’ve seen an anguished man clutching a child whose skull is half blown away, leaving only a peaceful face backed by a gaping red hole.

I’ve scrolled quickly past these photos, shocked at their graphic nature but mostly not wanting to harm nearby work colleagues.

For while the people who post and retweet such photos hope to draw the world’s attention and opprobrium to the perpetrators of violence, I’m more concerned about the impact these images have on those who’ve unwillingly been recruited through unfiltered social media feeds to bear witness.

There’s a reason why we use trigger warnings such as the one placed at the beginning of this post, just as there are guidelines for the public reporting of suicide.

Society is trying to protect those within it who are susceptible to graphic portrayals of violence.

That includes depressives, like me, who may at one point have considered suicide and who can slip easily back into a dark place when presented with depictions of violence and death. The slide can be even more slippery if those portrayals are unexpected or particularly graphic.

Then there are those, also like me, who’ve either lived close to domestic violence sometime during their lives or experienced it directly. Or those who are working to recover from post traumatic stress disorder brought on from myriad other forms of violence including psychological abuse, rape, battery, and home invasion, just to name a few.

I agree the world should bear witness to the atrocities being inflicted on innocent children, women and men. I acknowledge that graphic images can help jolt the comfortable western world out of its complacency when it comes to such violence.

But in using such images we must as a society be mindful of the real harm that actual depictions of violence and death can also inflict on those of our own communities who are vulnerable and at risk.

By all means draw attention to the inhumanity of war and other violence, but please retain your own humanity by protecting those who would be harmed by its depictions.

Author: Drag0nista

Political columnist at The New Daily | Editor of Despatches & AusVotes 2019 | Author of On Merit, a book on the Liberals' *women problem*. Former Liberal staffer and industry lobbyist. Studying the entrails of federal politics since 1989.

4 thoughts on “Images of the dead – a plea for humanity”

  1. Beautifully said Dragonista and I agree whole heartedly that it isnt a big ask to be forewarned of images of graphic violence, pornography or other representations that may be reasonably expected to shock, offend, disturb, or cause offence. Susan Sontag’s “Regarding the Pain of Others” makes an important contribution to this area of contemporary life.

    1. The voyeurism and the tabloid rush to be first to send the pictures on that seems to fuel the social media barrage of images that were once something most people would recoil from, has a colonial flavour to it. The images are like fleeting trophies of others lives, albeit extinguished or greatly diminished lives (the latter being those bereft of their loved ones or those brutally maimed) as the bodies of the deceased, bereft and/or brutalised are appropriated and incorporated into the agendas of distant people like so many colonised populations before them. This penchant of the western middleclass and burgeoning middleclasses of the non western capitalist centres of Asia Africa and South America is not, I believe, somethng that should be treated with lightly. Beyond the very real detriment the images can cause to the unwarned and unwary people who unwittngly find themselves confronted by these images, lies the question; what possesses someone to think the bodies of others are something for them to toy with?

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