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.

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