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The media have got into the way of treating images of violence differently from other types of images, as if what they reveal about the violence of the world were unbearable, as if this violence had better be talked about but not shown.What war does to the body is never shown, nor are the beheadings of hostages, the victims of terrorist attacks, of lynch mobs, or the corpses artfully arranged by Mexican gangs in their urban wars against one another (30,000 people have been killed over the last few years), just as, in a different register, we never get to see pictures of road accidents or crime scenes.
That is how the images of the planes crashing into the Twin Towers on 9/11 became the symbols of global terrorism while their counterparts – pictures of the abuses at Abu Graib –were perceived as signs of the ruination of Western societies when they violate their own values.
But those pictures that have sifted through the sieve of the media do not compensate for those that are absent from view. Therefore, such symbolization appears as exclusive, blinding us to other forms of violence which, being unsuspected, are likely to escape our understanding.
This is the approach I have followed for the cases that will be presented here: my first goal was to assess the pool of existing images, the second to distinguish the different ways in which these images are treated, depending on the media and sometimes on the country.
In the case of the beating up of young Darius, the general-interest media chose to occult a violence that had taken place just outside Paris, but other events taking place in more remote places are dealt with in exactly the same way.
However, the policy of the media is more complex, its argumentation varying according to the case. For instance, in the wake of 9/11, France 2 broadcast a documentary entitled “Kaboul, cité interdite” (“Kabul: Forbidden City”) which contained images of people being hanged or shot dead in Afghanistan under the Taliban regime. After the assassination of Nick Berg, who was taken hostage in Iraq in 2004, the format that was adopted for broadcasting has been more or less the same: either we only get to see the beginning of the video or a freeze frame showing the executioners standing behind their victim dressed in an orange jumpsuit.
Besides, choices may differ from one newspaper to the next. What follows, which may contain statements the victim may have been forced to make or images of the victim’s corpse, is never shown.
Although easily accessible on the Internet, images of violence are often occulted in the French media.
Why are some images shown while others are kept out of circulation? The pictures of Darius, a young Rom who was lynched and left for dead in a supermarket trolley in 2014 in Seine-Saint-Denis, were not released in the French press.
Sometimes, however, the desire to show prevails and channels will resort to elaborate blurring techniques aimed at hiding unwanted elements.
This trick of showing only a part of the picture does not fall into any of the categories mentioned so far.