The idea of physically representing images on a light-sensitive paper is answers the need to preserve objects from their timely destruction. The earliest efforts at preserving objects existed in Egypt, whereby mummies embalmed bodies. Through evolution, other forms of representation arose, including art and photography. Although the need to ‘freeze’ life is fulfilled in these new forms, there is the more important concept of creating an ideal world with a perfect likeness with the real and shares its temporal destiny. Visual realism entails all aspects that give an image its original appearance, free from any interference, such as computer editing. According to Bazin (1960, p.11), two important aspects of an image include the spiritual (psychological) expression and the aesthetic (psychological) representation.
Plastic arts shared a spiritual reality with the painter, implying that the painter’s world became transferred to the viewer’s consciousness through the presentation of details. In terms of aesthetic representation, artists aim at making the copy an actual representation of the symbol. Painters, therefore, aim at balancing between spiritual expression and duplicating the outside world. Developments in photography solved the mystery of visual realism, in that light-sensitive paper can embalm a moment in time in the exact way it happened. In terms of spiritual fulfillment, the audience shares a psychological connection with the photographer based on the viewing angles and other photographic elements.
Since its discovery, photography, including film making, is trusted due to its ability to give an accurate representation of the original image or scene. According to MacDougall (1998, p. 200), a lot of doubts come in when editing a film, especially after a change in shooting angles. In connection to Bazin’s idea of photography, making a perfect representation of an object is vital in the filming process. Even after changing shooting angles, filmmakers often discard parts of the footage that may contain valuable information. Generally, video editing denies the audience certain elements from the original footage and provides them in other forms that may offer an imbalanced view.
Cultural Anesthesia in King’s Beating
Cultural anesthesia postulates that in a post-war capitalist world, degrading people increases the capacity to inflict pain on them and rendering such pain as worthless of any social intervention. This degradation of people upsurges from the uneven distribution of cultural representation in systems based on race, sex, economic status, and cultural domination (Feldman, 1994, p. 90). For example, in televising operation Desert Storm, the bodies of Arab victims got erased electronically, making them appear like grains of sand threatening the American military arsenal. The editing work was aimed at corrupting the truth to pass out a different message from what happened.
In the beating of Rodney King, the defense played the video at a speed that changed the appearance of what occurred on the scene. The actual beating of Rodney King was very brutal, with political figures such as former President Bush remarking that what he saw made him sick. “It was outrageous!” He added (Reed, 2012). However, the jurors reconstructed the video in what was seen as a racially biased move to dismiss King’s case. The reconstruction resulted in the jurors only seeing a trailer of the actual beatings, and slow-motion play lowered the emotional impact of the beating. As Bazin argues, the purpose of photography is to carry forward the spiritual and aesthetic aspects of the real world. The jurors corrupted their ability to represent the truth by editing the video, leading to a lighter emotion than was originally intended (Bazin, 1960, p.11).
After the beating, King had to be taken to the hospital. One of his attending nurses testified to the court of verbal abuse from Officer Powell to King who worked at a sports stadium. “We played a little hardball tonight. Do you remember who was playing? …we won and you lost” (Feldman, 1994, p. 96). In making that statement, Powell acknowledged mishandling King based on a racial and social disparity between them. But by using a cultural common-ground of sports, Powell normalized the violence done and brought the act to the level of “acceptable”. The officers exhibited their exercise of cultural anesthesia in dismissing the beatings as part of the job and arguing that he acted in a bear-like manner.
Current Issues in America: Social Media and Movies
Photography is an important part of expressing oneself. In the past, artists made paintings to express inner feelings and ideas. Presently, people use photography to capture important aspects of their lives such as birthdays, anniversaries and so on. Such photographs record feelings such as joy and gratitude for future memory. However, modern technology allows people to edit pictures, and in so doing, create a rift between what’s real and fabricated. Casually referred to as Photoshop, young girls enlarge their eyes, modify their lips, add curves to their bodies. Boys will include features that were not present, such as an expensive car in the background. Millennials improve the aesthetic qualities of their photographs to satisfy their inner craving for things they wish for. The argument is, “If people will be more attracted to me, then the edit is worth it.”
Photoshop has caused people to go out on blind dates, only to be served with what was not ordered. When used discretely, edited images can be used to gain popularity with a good purpose, such as advocating for human rights. The widest application of editing in photography is found in movies, whereby characters are given surreal bodily features and powers. Batman, for example, is capable of shooting spider webs and using them to scale buildings at a high speed. The Hulk in the Marvel comics is immensely huge, green in color, and can destroy buildings with his bare fists. The electronic editing of characters is, therefore, used to good purpose. However, when videos are edited to change the true qualities of the original, the changes are used to propagate evil, such as in cultural anesthesia.
Bazin, A. (1967). What is Cinema? Volume I. Trans. Hugh Gray. Berkeley: University of California Press.
MacDougall, D. (1998). Unprivileged Cinema Style. Transcultural cinema (pp. 199-208). Princeton: Princeton University Press.
Reed, C. (2012, March 22). From the archive, 22 March 1991: President Bush sickened by Rodney King’s case. The Guardian. Retrieved from https://www.theguardian.com/theguardian/2012/mar/22/archive-1991-president-bush-sickened-rodney-king
Seremetakis, C. N. (Ed.). (1994). From Desert Storm to Rodney King via ex-Yugoslavia: On Cultural Anesthesia. Allen Feldman, The senses still (pp.87-107). Boulder, Co: Westview Press.