Friday, September 11, 2009

Falling Man

Remembering The Falling Man 911

Across the entire global community there seems to be no alignment of agreement on ethics in relation to the journalistic press or the photo journalistic press. There are varying degrees of  guidelines and principles for all the strata of output in the media in the twenty first century.

The cultural evolution theory developed by the nineteenth century anthropologist Lewis Henry Morgan is a stiff ethnocentric model that I found difficult to place over any society in the world. He put forward the idea that societies developed from the first stage of savagery onto barbarism then finally reaching civilization.

I found this view a little narrow and a little shallow until I began to focus on the microcosm of society that is the world’s press, in this context the model sat very well.
All aspects of Morgan’s cultural evolution theory reside in both the shallowness and depths of the worlds printed and broadcast media. From tabloids to broadsheets, from rolling news to in-depth reports directly from the centre of disasters and war.

The savage, the barbarian, and the civilized exist together. These various media formats feed us their view of world events static and unfolding. The savage paparazzi, who dive to lower and lower depths of unethical behavior to achieve images for reward. The barbaric photojournalism of war, human suffering and the occasional attempt at civility by the more ethically sensitive media. Some at least try to find a balance towards the honor of the individual and human dignity.

It is a fact that a picture paints a thousand words. A photograph is revealing to the viewer and revealing of its subject. One image still etched in my mind as regards ethical issues and the privacy of the individual is the 2001 image of “The Falling Man” .

This image appeared in newspapers across the globe in the day’s post 911; it is heralded as an iconic image in the same vain as the Unknown Soldier.

In a documentary made at the time, it was put forward as a heroic image of an American in an elegant gracefully fall.

The fact is, this is an image of a man in the last few seconds of his life. A very private moment stolen by the click, click, click, of a press photographer. The photojournalist job that day was to get exclusive graphic images to sell to the networks.

Now, one could argue that the latter was perhaps in the public interest or that the public has a right to know allowing ethical considerations being overridden.

Journalism and the freedom of the press has an ethnology all of its own. The victim falling to his death on 911 did not go to work to become an icon of a tragic day.
It is unfortunate how a murdered man becomes a reluctant hero in his dying moments and this somehow brings a badge of honor to the photojournalist who captured this barbarism.

The photograph was subsequently used to eventfully identify the man but that also brought up issues which evoked anger and shame. Somehow the people who fell from the twin towers that day became referred to as jumpers. This implied that they committed suicide which some people associated with shame.

Journalists and photojournalists have a responsibility to bring us news, to investigate on our behalf. They also have a responsibility to attempt to achieve equilibrium between their story gathering abilities and the right to the privacy and dignity of an individual.

Where is the point that people must relinquish their privacy as they perhaps become celebrities? If you rise your head above the parapet you are it seems, automatically relieved of autonomy over your private life. Moral sensitivity good taste and compassion are required on the part of journalists especially when they are reporting about victims of accidents or other tragedies.

If you die because of an act of terrorism and your dying image is captured on film you become an overnight celebrity, a hero, an icon, somehow transmuted from an ordinary individual to someone owned by the world? In your life perhaps you were an unremarkable person and in your death you become a moral dilemma, something to be honed and cooked up into a media offering for the masses to digest.

RIP to all victims of 911

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