miercuri, 17 aprilie 2013

Pulitzer Prize winner Philip Kennicott: "Why do we stare"


If you haven't done so already, put some time aside to read "Why do we stare", Philip Kennicott's essay about the perverse delight to watch images of ugliness only to share them online the next minute. Two days ago Kennicott, an art critic who writes for The Washington Post, was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for criticism. 

Facebook and Twitter have become vast, voyeuristic bazaars of freakishness and pain, inviting us to laugh at politicians having bad hair days, or a peasant carrying too many goats on the back of his motorbike. There’s a dead Syrian rebel, killed by the thugs of Bashar al-Assad. There’s the same dead Syrian, loyal to Assad, killed by rebel thugs. The captions shift, but the invitation to a fast, easy, cheap emotion is the same. A toothless man says racist things about President Obama. A pious liberal prig spouts off inanities about Romney. Rarely these images tell us something useful about the world. Mostly, they indulge the same appetites that were once sated by racist jokes in the back of the bar, or gladiator contests and circus spectacles.

It is telling that the article convinced the jury, not only about the incisiveness and elegance of the author's criticism, but also about the subject he addresses. Our online activity brings to surface some of the guilty pleasures we'd otherwise choose not to expose. Is it a question of morality or should we consider this propensity for petty schadenfreude as nothing but a momentary relief?

Even the idea that we “share” these images on social media brings with it a tinge of hypocrisy. Sharing a piece of pie means having less of it for yourself. Sharing a video of a meth addict hurling obscenities at the police isn’t exactly an act of giving; it requires nothing of the giver and passes on nothing of value, either.

The picture of the man about to be killed on the subway track, published last year by New York Post, is just another example of how the media exploit our corrupted pleasure in the face of pain and humiliation. Even more, we've started ourselves to proliferate images of distress: ridiculous or weak or unfortunate or - simply - ugly people. The purpose of all this? Just to get attention:

Perhaps the preternatural communion with billions of people afforded by the Internet makes it all the more necessary that we affirm our own existence and value by laughing at others, forcing us all into a vast, cyber version of junior high school in which bullying and cruelty are a primal defense mechanism against being lost in the crowd.

The same thing happens with text and videos. I've lost track of all the horrific Youtube moments and idiotic opinions I've witnessed in 2012. Cause I'm only human, right? It's easier to raise yourself above the online crowd with snippets of ugliness, rather than engaging your creativity. 

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