How Cell Phone Videos Are Destroying the Media Safety Net

How Cell Phone Videos Are Destroying the Media Safety NetPhoto of the attacker speaking to onlookers.

Examining our appetite for shock and awe in the Internet age.

 

In the last five years a major shift has occurred, allowing anyone with a camera, a Tumblr, or a YouTube account to become their own media baron, resulting in a great influx of imagery that had previously been considered taboo. The safety net has been removed from our media platforms and the terrors made visible through them are intensifying beyond the control of corporate media curators.

Earlier this week, the media safety net was breached in a stunning way when two Englishmen killed a returned soldier in the small town of Woolwich, England. Cell phone footage of the moments immediately following the attack were published, showing an nightmarishly lucid speech from one of the attackers, hands covered in fresh blood, dirtied knife still in-hand. 

 

"A major shift has occurred, allowing anyone with a camera, a Tumblr, or a YouTube account to become their own media baron, resulting in a great influx of imagery that had previously been considered taboo."

 

"The only reasons we killed this man is because Muslims are dying daily," the man said. "This British soldier is an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth. We apologize that women had to see this today, but in our lands our women have to see the same. You people will never be safe. Remove your government. They don't care about you."

Initial media reports described the attackers as "crazed" but the footage is unnervingly calm and apologetic, containing a rationale for the horrific act that mirrors that logic of the US military's approach to combat, and its definition of any military-age male in a strike zone as a "combatant."

The last half century has seen various configurations of Western military partnerships engage in warfare around the world, culminating with the post-9/11 declaration of open-ended war on people who make us experience "terror," an undertaking so broad it starts with the guarantee of its own impossibility. There will never be a time when we aren't susceptible to terror, and so there will never be a time when we aren't at war.

In portraying the insanity of this outlook news reports, film, television, and Facebook arguments have often been scrubbed of the worst evidence of violence, creating a vacuum where debates about drone strikes, midnight raids, and military atrocities occur in the most abstract terms. We argue about the moral basis for actions that the media never shows, creating a culture where people have opinions about the rightness or wrongness of a military strategy without ever having to see what its human consequences are.

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