Thursday, August 02, 2007

The Minneapolis Bridge Collapse and the Pornography of Destruction

(Photo by benalkaline3, via CC)

[No photos or videos of yesterday's bridge disaster will be included in today's post]

According to Merriam-Webster's dictionary, the word "pornography" has several definitions. One of the less-often referred to ones:
"the depiction of acts in a sensational manner so as to arouse a quick intense emotional reaction"
Around 6 p.m., local time, yesterday, the highway bridge that ran over the Mississippi River in Minneapolis collapsed. Nobody could have predicted this, but what was far more predictable was the media feeding frenzy that this event has spawned:

(screenshots altered to remove photos)

The New York Times,, and many others offer up a full buffet of heart-wrenching photography, and allow you to stream devastating videos of the incident from the comfort of your own home. In today's world, the dissemination of information, images, and video is as immediate as it is informative. But it is also pornographic.

The human psyche is excited by these images of destruction. We saw this when the television shows repeatedly played footage of the two towers collapsing on September 11th. Again and again, they showed that footage and we looked on, as we would towards brutal train wreck or car accident. Did we realize we were watching people die? Did we even think about it? (The film "Why We Fight" has one father's heart-breaking testimony of how he insisted they stop showing footage of those towers collapsing - his son died in one of them).

The heartrate quickens, the eye twitches, and the arms get goosebumps. Millions are made at the box office every week by films that promise to vicariously give us the thrill of death, of destruction, of insane action. But I would argue, today, that for real life we should try and have a little respect.

People died horrible deaths yesterday. They were, mothers, fathers, sisters, brothers, sons, daughters. They didn't know they would die. The bridge collapse was swift and brutal. They had dreams, they had hopes, they had careers. They were just trying to get home during rush hour traffic when their lives were torn from them brutally. They were, in short, just like you and me.

So today, I guess what I'd ask my readers is: try not to look at the images. Look away. Sate your morbid curiosity and get your thrills from something other than the death of others. I'm not saying it's easy for a photographer, I'm fascinated by such images of destruction and a part of me almost wishes that I was there to visually document the event. There is something enthralling about such a massive architectural undertaking failing so spectacularly, so suddenly, and with such disastrous results.

But just for today, I'm going to try not to look.


Chris said...

I agree heartily with this feeling. Its something you see on CNN all the time - footage of dramatic car crashes or bazaar accidents. Does this constitute national news? Not really. Its a tragedy for those involved but it serves no newsworthy purpose other than to drive up ratings.

Your reference to this sort of destructo-porn in movies is an interesting one. I certainly love a good fight movie and spent a good chunk of time as a kid building castles and legos to destroy them in 'battle.' I'm not sure whether I could count that in the same category. I would say though that such movies as Saw and Hostel, etc are or at least come dangerously close to the same sort of pornography.

stygyan said...

There is something more to fear. It's not the morbid fascination of death, but the horrific indiference of the world.

You know: 'Hey, it's not my country, it's not my people. Why should I care?'

Anonymous said...

Yes this needs to be shown, and yes we need to look. And believe me, everyone who counts themselves as human is looking and feelng the pain of the dying, the horror of their loved ones at the loss.
We need to show every pointless death on TV, to shock people from their smug indifference, to show them the reality of what happens when they let corrupt others run their lives, and pocket profit from their pain.
I want every death resulting from government incompetence or blatant corruption to be shown, every mangled body. Perhaps then we will turn away from those who are willing to allow this carnage, whether it is a bridge in the US or a war in Iraq.
The most shameful thing we could do is to hide it from sight in the name of so called decency.