Tuesday, May 13, 2008

The brown and the dead


Does this woman's body deserve respect?

Saturday night I was watching as CNN covered the tragedy in Myanmar (Burma). I was well aware of the devastation caused by Nagris, the cyclone that ripped the country apart. What shocked me was the graphic nature of CNN's report. There were bodies and bodies and more bodies--Burmese men, women, even children, dead, bloated, discolored and rotting in the Southeast Asian sun; arms and legs akimbo as if their owners had been tossed like rag dolls. I know this is what death looks like, especially when it takes place in a poor country where the people have been colonized, militarized and rocked by ethnic strife and drug trafficking. But I watched the television and couldn't help thinking that this video desecration of the already desecrated was another example of how American culture sees brown people as somehow less human.

According to the Huffington Post, a CNN spokesperson, defending the news outlet's work in Burma, said "the enormity of the story" merited showing corpses. What are the chances that CNN will show the broken bodies of the 22 people killed in twisters that plowed across the central United States this weekend, y'know so we get "the enormity of the story?" We did not need to see graphic footage of victims to understand the enormity of Oklahoma City or 9/11. I do remember seeing some footage of Hurricane Katrina's dead--not as graphic as the Myanmar coverage--but we all know those folks in New Orleans weren't American anyway, they were "refugees." (Tongue firmly in cheek, here.)
This is the same bias that allows a magazine that would never show a naked American woman, to show an unclothed African woman. In our puritanical culture, where we are obsessed with, yet repulsed by, the bodies of the living and the dead, why do we reserve our concern only for those who look like us?

View a short clip of CNN's Burma coverage at Huffington Post. What do you think?

Image courtesy of exfordy on Flickr.

6 comments:

AJ Plaid said...

I think you nailed it, friend. I also wonder if such graphic coverage sublty communicates to the viewer how "primitive" people of color are as far as their architecture and infrastructures are concerned, as if to say, "See? All these folks died 'cuz they're too uncivilized to have and maintain buildings and bridges to withstand the elements. Yay, white Western civilization!"

Charlotte said...

Wow. I never thought of it this way. Though when I opened the New York Times on Saturday and was confronted with a picture of ten or so dead bodies lined up on the ground, I immediately closed the paper. You're right. We would never see ten dead citizens of the United States lined up on the ground, perhaps posed for the photograph.

barefootwoman said...

I couldn't agree more. i said to my mother this morning,"Where is the respect? That is someone's Mother, Father, child. Respect them in their passing and get it off the screen. we understand the WORDS." Sadly, I think your analysis of the coverage is spot on.

AJ said...

The same thing occurred during the 2004 Tsunami. I was livid that the media would show such disregard for human life. I remember saying to my spouse then - we are only seeing these images because these are brown people.

Anonymous said...

"But I watched the television and couldn't help thinking that this video desecration of the already desecrated was another example of how American culture sees brown people as somehow less human."

I don’t agree that CNN’s coverage of the Burma cyclone aftermath was “another example of how American culture sees brown people as somehow less human.". I see the type of coverage given to the Burma crisis as pure shock coverage. In my opinion, if the media could get away with showing graphic pictures of dead Americans they would do it regardless of whether the dead were brown or white. But the problem is that unlike in the situation of Burma, you’ll probably find quite a number of relatives, friends, etc. here in the US who will raise hell and complain to the network about seeing the body of someone they know shown on TV like that.

“What are the chances that CNN will show the broken bodies of the 22 people killed in twisters that plowed across the central United States this weekend, y'know so we get "the enormity of the story?" We did not need to see graphic footage of victims to understand the enormity of Oklahoma City or 9/11.”

Well I remember the initial coverage of 9-11, when things were just starting and the media was in a frenzy to show whatever was going on, there were graphic images of people plunging to their death in the newspapers. (They probably would have shown bodies on the ground had they been able to get to the site or fly overhead.) However these images were quickly pulled. Which goes back to my point above that if the American media could get away with it, they would show graphic pictures of tragic situation right here in the U.S.

metahope said...

I wish our news would show more carnage when white people get hurt. Because it's not shown its invisible as if it didn't happen. I believe that showing the carnage shows respect for the dead because it makes it more real and more people think about it and feel it. For instance, during 9/11 most of the carnage was not shown and there are people around the world who believe it wasn't really that bad.

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