Thursday, 24 July 2014

Dead baby porn

Generic dead baby.

An excellent article in Spiked today describes how the proliferation of "dead baby porn" is wholly counter productive. It benefits those who would use the moral capital to promote their "humanitarian" political agendas, but it plays into the hands of Hamas who are keen to exploit it too.
Inevitably, this shift from a view of Palestinians as the potential equals of all other self-determining peoples to a view of Palestinians as perennial victims has changed the way in which Palestinians are depicted. Where once the 20-year-old man hurling a stone at an Israeli tank might have been the archetypal image of a Palestinian, now the dead child or wailing woman is held up as the epitome of the Palestinian experience. This has a great impact on how Palestinian politics itself is conducted. It implicitly invites the leaders of the Palestinian people to nurture this new victim status, to conspire in the depiction of Palestinians as pathetic, with an eye for getting international institutions to take action against Israel and offer greater material and economic support to the Palestinian territories.
There's very little I could add to this, or pick fault with, except to say this is nothing at all new. The fact that Gazans are still considered refugees to be tended by the ministrations of UNWRA shows that the UN has always sought to define Palestinians as victims - and Palestinians have been all too happy to nurture it. We're seeing the same old dynamics on steroids. Hamas certainly isn't the first to exploit it, and all that has changed is the pace and volume of dead baby porn, facilitated by the internet.

What feels different this time around is that those participating in this morbid exchange are not remotely concerned if the images they use are current, or indeed authentic. They are all of a particular style and composition, and without tools like tineye.com you would be hard pressed to tell the difference between a shot from 2002 and yesterday. Most don't even bother to check.

From each passing conflict or spat in the Middle East emerges a new batch of moral Top Trumps cards to be played over Twitter, in a ghoulish game where the more graphic the image, the more righteous your cause. It no longer matters if the imagery is even from the same conflict. It's all good propaganda among the moral crusaders.

As O'Neill observes, it triggers a race to the bottom the likes of Hamas are well aware of. We create the demand, and they are happy to supply. But it speaks more about the moral corruption of Western media and NGO humanitarianism.

The entire humanitarian NGO industry has always depended on the victims paraded on our screens - and nothing makes a photography career quite like a poignant shot of a starving African baby, sat alone and crawling with flies. You would be hard pressed to find an 80's video montage not containing such imagery.

Poignant image, but without value.
Disaster and war photography is less about recording history than it is grief tourism, collecting souvenir snaps along the way, that lazy picture editors simply cannot resist - and will pay good money for. Reporting from war zones is now an effort to make you feel a particular way rather than to inform the viewer of unfolding events.

From this voyeuristic tendency has grown a multi-billion, multi-national humanitarian NGO industry with tentacles in all levels of government. To this day we are still treated to Red Nose Day telethons and pop concerts - and few politicians dare not wear the wristbands.

With such political leverage, they influence foreign policy, foreign aid priorities, military spending, and have become pillars of global government. It's actually a pretty good deal all round, unless you're a soon-to-be-dead Gazan baby. The only people who suffer are Gazans, but who really cares about them? Not the UN and certainly not Hamas.

But there are reasons to be optimistic. Since 2006, in the wake of the numerous fakes and fabrications that came from the Lebanon campaign, many are desensitised to it, and with bloggers applying forensic scrutiny to every single image, the mainstream media cannot get away with it as they once did. Standards have improved somewhat, and picture editors are much more cautious in their choice of front page pictures. We're getting wise to them, and we're getting wise to Hamas.

Further to this, with a daily barrage of mass slaughters from Syria and elsewhere in the Arab world, the outrage reserved just for Israel seems a little credulous. Moreover, as the debate has been reduced to memes and tweets, the debate has become more polarised. The protests against Israel have crossed the line into naked anti-semitism and advocates of the Palestinian cause are ever more aggressive and bilious. Like the Ukippers and Cyber-nats, the more insistent they become, the more people will tune out - and that's exactly what needs to happen for this conflict to end. This will continue only for as long as this conflict has the complete and undivided attention of the world.

That said, Israel needs to wake up. Israel's failure to grasp the significance of the propaganda aspect of this conflict is what ultimately sustains it. To many the righteousness of the cause rises with the body count, and yet Israel obligingly supplies their enemies with precisely the material they need. Every volley of 155mm artillery adds further currency, every massive black smoke cloud is gold dust, and every collapsed apartment block is a new photography set. No pun intended, but it's not rocket science.

By the end of this campaign over a thousand will lie dead. That number will be the monument to this military effort, not the military outcome. The rockets may fall silent for a time while Hamas digs out their tunnels, but sooner or later the cameras will roll again and yet more hard drives will be filled with more dead baby porn. What has been achieved?

The technology now exists to fight a war of containment that need not spill out onto the front pages. Israel knows this because much of the technology is Israeli. So we have to ask, is this just political and military incompetence, or is Israel getting something it needs out of this too? So long as Hamas and the "international community" are given what they need to thrive, we will continue sustain a conflict that should now be long forgotten. So why keep repeating the same mistakes?

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