america: numbed by violent media images?

To start writing this blog post, I headed to Google’s news section. I started typing in countries where I knew conflict was going on, looking for examples of violent images. I only needed to type in the name of one country to get what I was looking for: Syria. This New York Times article popped up first, coupled with a gruesome photo of a man carrying a boy, both of their clothes soaked with blood. The story’s good–hard to read, but good. It discusses how Syrian doctors become victims of the turmoil and destruction surrounding the country’s instability–so, you could say it’s an important read.

Still, reading¬†about these doctors and looking at the grisly photos, I couldn’t help feeling that I wasn’t upset enough about it. I don’t even know how long I’ve been hearing about Syria and the issues going on there. Truly, I don’t know the full scope of the issues. I (infrequently, admittedly) click links about Syria on Twitter, but I never feel like I fully understand what I’m reading. Maybe it’s because I don’t read about it often enough, but it’s also hard for me to connect with what I’m reading, with this place so far away from me in conditions that are hard for me to even fathom.

I think that violent images in the media are essential, but I’m disappointed in my own reaction to them. On some level, I believe that a story about Syrian doctors in the midst of a war wouldn’t be complete without a visual component. (I believe that most stories aren’t complete without a visual component.) When I saw this image, attached to the story mentioned above, I felt helpless. Most violent images leave me feeling this way, and I imagine I’m not alone. While stories are incomplete without these images, violent images leave us in a predicament. When we see a violent image, we can get upset–we can get angry, we can get sad, we can get disappointed–but eventually, we’ll feel hopeless. We do grow numb to the violent images, but I don’t think we’re being desensitized to the violence itself. I think if we saw the same image–of a bloodstained man holding his bloodstained kid–walking down the street, we’d certainly respond. Rather, we’re training ourselves to avoid the helplessness the images bring about. If we can’t do anything about it, why bother with an emotional response, right?

In short: violent images are inevitable. We live in a violent world sometimes, and the images our media outlets publish have a responsibility to reflect that. Whether or not those images (and our response to them) are good for us is another story.