Ray Rice, the NFL football player who is now being persecuted for beating a woman unconscious in an Atlantic City Casino elevator, probably thought he was going to get away with it. The security video that first propelled him into the spotlight was shot from outside the elevator and showed him dragging the unconscious woman out of the elevator, but did not show the actual beating that caused her to be unconscious in the first place.
Rice got off lightly – he was suspended for two (2) games, which meant that he only missed the first 10 days of the season. He pled not guilty to the charge of assault and was given the option of a diversionary programme that allows first time offenders to have the charges against them dismissed.
So far, so good.
Then, TMZ released the video that was shot inside the elevator and actually showed Rice pummelling his fiancée … and all hell breaks loose. The public is outraged, the NFL is shocked and appalled, and now Rice is being pilloried and condemned from every corner. His sponsors have dropped him, and merchandisers are buying back Rice merchandise to “get it all off the street.”
This all seems strange, because the fact that Ray Rice had beaten his fiancée into unconsciousness was never in doubt. Everyone from the police, to the NFL, to the public at large knew what had happened in that elevator. It was not until they saw it on video, however, that it actually became REAL.
And now, as the saying goes, “heads must roll.”
Which brings us to ISIS. Everyone knows that this group is savage and unspeakably cruel. They have conducted mass murder on a grand scale. They have killed people in the most gruesome of ways. But the now famously “war-weary” American public resisted all ideas to go after ISIS until the group posted videos of them beheading American journalists.
Just as in the Ray Rice incident, ISIS could have counted on a lack of attention from the US public as long as there were no videos of their dastardly deeds being shared across the Internet. Unlike Rice, however, ISIS did not want to remain unnoticed. They have been constantly challenging the US to intervene, to come meet them on the battlefield, Their greatest wish is to get the US involved on the ground in their neighbourhood, where they reckon they can defeat US ground forces and thus gain even more credibility with the Arab Street and recruit even more would-be Jihadi from around the world.
So what did they do? They made videos actually showing what they were capable of. And the US public, in a rapid reaction that can only be described as Pavlovian, rose to the bait. Obama now has the wind of public opinion at his back, and he can sail on towards another war in the Middle East, giving US defence contractors another mammoth windfall and giving ISIS exactly what they wanted.
Remember that in the world of American foreign policy, beheadings themselves are not cause for action or even condemnation. The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, the US’s biggest ally in the Arab world, regularly beheads people as a form of punishment. Indeed, the Saudis killed 22 people in August 2014 alone, of which at least 8 were beheaded. The condemned usually have no attorney, and there is often not even a trial – justice is meted out based on “confessions” obtained through torture. You can be beheaded for crimes as minor as adultery or “apostasy” – or as weird as “sorcery” and “witchcraft” (according to Amnesty International). Nice. The irony here, of course, is that Saudi Arabia is now supposed to be one of our major allies in prosecuting the war against ISIS.
What would happen, I wonder, if the Saudi beheadings had been televised, or video’d and placed on YouTube? What would the American public start to think about our great strategic ally?
This phenomenon, alas, is not new. It is widely acknowledged that the turn in US public opinion against the war in Vietnam was due to the fact that it was televised. Unlike all previous conflicts, technology allowed reporters to narrate while the actual carnage was broadcast into America’s living rooms. This is why the Pentagon has since come up with the policy of “embedding” journalists with troop units, so the military can control what the reporters see, hear and do, thereby controlling the images that reach the public eye.
This is also why “whistle-blowers” and “leakers” are being prosecuted so savagely. Would there have ever been such an uproar about Abu Graib if the photos had not made their way to the press?
Likewise, the programmes that have been providing our local police forces with military-grade equipment and even special military training in Israel have been in place for years – but it was not until we saw the photos and footage from Ferguson that it became a major national issue.
On the flip-side of this argument, it seems everyone on both sides of the death penalty debate believes that televising executions would very quickly lead to an abolishment of capital punishment. But again, there is a reason that so much of what our Government does in our name is hidden from the cameras.
So what’s my point? My point is that there has been a major dumbing-down of the public and political discourse in America. What I call “The Great Dumbening” started in the early 80’s (under a President that defined catsup as a vegetable) and has proceeded apace for the past 30 years. And a major part of this dumbing down has been a steady decline in people reading and – more importantly – being able to relate, empathise and form opinions based on non-visual communications.
And alas, the Internet is not really helping in this regard. The writing found on the Internet is formatted for children – “keep it chunky” is the rule – that is, short, choppy, hard-hitting segments punctuated with – you guessed it – graphics and photos.
We are fast approaching something out of a Phillip K. Dick novel, yet another dystopian future where nothing actually happens, nothing is perceived as “real” until we see it in a video format. And that is scary, because visual communication is the easiest to manipulate, censor and control (think Photoshop).
Yes, a picture is worth a thousand words, but just because there is no picture available, does not mean that those thousand words have no value. Indeed, it is often the case that where there are only words, it is even more important that those words be read, understood and acted upon if needed.
When no one has time for words anymore, then Truth becomes whatever happens to be trending on YouTube – and society suffers.