Thursday, February 03, 2011

Images vs. Words

This is a musing post, not linked to any one particular current topic, yet linked to all of them. I was watching a Chris Hedges video (on the death of the liberal class in the US)in which he stated that we are moving from the era of written words to the era of images, with consequences which are not always obvious. For instance, images are much better at provoking emotions than words and analysis.

My guess is that he is right in that. Think back to the coverage of the Vietnam war (or even WWII). It is the few iconic images we remember easily: the raising of the flag, the naked, hurt girl running, the My Lai executions. Yet all these are single images, images of a single event which may or may not be representative of all that took place.

There is something about images that provokes emotions. But there is also something about images that might get past our analytical and critical defenses, that might brand us directly in a way which later arguments cannot affect. Whether this is so I don't know.

But I do know that fighting an image with words doesn't seem to work, even though it is only in the analysis stage that we can truly look at the evidence, truly compare it, truly understand how common something is, how something came about.

Maybe this is because analysis, to be of any worth, must be boring, long and detailed? Maybe this is because analysis, when done correctly, tries to avoid that premature emotional branding? Emotions are not absent in it, but they should not drive the analysis to rapid conclusions.

Now combine images with short sound-bites (such as on Fox News) and you can see why it just might be the case that our public debates are deteriorating partly because of the impact of images? We are taking short-cuts the conclusions, carried by that emotional significance?

Heh. I just scanned through this post and realized that I was doing exactly the wrong thing. I should find a picture of Echidne staring quietly into the distance where weird creatures wearing bankster hats stomp on masses of the suffering and patriarchs prepare cages for their wimminfolk.

But even in feminism it is those short sound-bites and internal images which sometimes carry the day: Bra-burning and hairy armpits, Birkenstocks and ugly women.