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March 20, 2005

Curb Appeal

Shiavohouse-1

(To examine/refer to larger version — click here)

This is the shot the NYT chose for its front page on Saturday, the second day of the Terri Schiavo rescue.  The photo shows protesters praying outside the home of Michael Schiavo.

What I was particularly interested in was the “No Trespassing” sign.

Notrespass-2

According to Wordnet, trespass is defined as a willful act that involves the invasion of property, rights or person.  It also lists “encroachment” as a synonym which, in Websters, is explained as an advance beyond proper or formal limits.

The thing I find interesting about this photo is how it defines terms for what is and isn’t invasive.  It achieves this by defining the sidewalk as a proper boundary between Mr. Schiavo and his adversaries.  This effect is reinforced through the sense of authority manufactured by the protesters.  It’s hard to fault their (faceless) presence when they seem so uniform, so pious (as if, in this case, Jesus is literally “on their side”) and so mindful of even the mid-point of the sidewalk. 

(In fact, the photo seems to lend extra favor to the protesters for respecting the sidewalk. You get this sense from the middle figure, the women in the brown jacket.  By appearing further back then the others, her feet extended onto the curbside grass, she almost seems generous for “giving up” more ground then otherwise “entitled to.”)

In considering the trespass question, though, we might remind ourselves there is also an unseen “second column” here.  Just as the sidewalk seems like a justifiable boundary between the protesters and Mr. Schiavo, it seems like the line of protesters form an acceptable boundary line between Mr. Schiavo and the photographers (as well as you and me).  The impression is that, as long as we remain behind the protesters, we have license to encroach to our hearts content.

I have no idea what the journalistic standards and ethics are (if any) relative to publishing Mr. Schiavo’s house on the front page of the NYT — especially in the current crazy atmosphere.

I do know that it won’t do anything to slow the encroachment by the Congress and President into another state of Florida judgment that didn’t go their way.  It won’t help prevent more acts like the one Saturday, when a number of people, encouraged by prominent ultra-conservative religious figures, were arrested trying to bring bread to Mrs. Schiavo and conduct citizens arrests on her caretakers.  It won’t help tamp down those obsessive fanatics who have done their best to put Mr. Shiavo on trial, who will undoubtedly find new questions in the car and truck he drives, and the way he keeps his lawn.  And, it probably won’t do much to keep more people from dropping by, now that they appreciate what the place looks like, and can see they have friends just a few respectable yards from the front door. 

(image: Paul Kizzle/AP in The New York Times)

  • Dave McCarthy

    The picture, by showing the protestors with their backs to us, gives the impression that we are with them behind the lines and on their ’side’.

  • merchanna

    Don’t forget: there were more people protesting the continuing war in Iraq than over the issue of Terri Schiavo. While the Republicans were busy devising ways to use Schiavo’s life and death as a pawn, they don’t give a crap about anyone else, on our side, and the Iraqi’s. they just want to be reelected in ‘06 by the Christian right.

  • Quentin

    Let these people go down on the range to Crawford, Texas, and protest the Texas ‘murder’ of ‘Baby Sun’, who they probably haven’t even heard about, so interested they might be in ‘life’ and so fascinated by the rigor and virtue of Mr. ‘Texas’ DeLay and their Dear Supreme Leader who enacted the law which made it possible for the life of ‘Baby Sun’ to be ended against her mother’s wish, who, incidentally, is black and, evidently, not dripping with cash. The ‘demonstration’ (more like a bit from an amateur passion play, I would say) has obviously been ’staged’: the people were told where to place themselves, how to assume the right posture for the strongest effect of extroverted piety. Maybe one of them thought up the whole thing, more probably a handler of the Schindlers or DeLay was responsible for this media kitsch. Anyway, the photographer was there at just the right moment, but I wonder where the photographer and all the actors were just a few minutes later: maybe down at the local burger joint. Evern worse, the NY Times has once again lived up to its newly won reputation as The Illustrious Rag: how dare they show Schiavo’s house, inviting every kook and crook alive to look for it and to harrass him? Why do they give these people on the sidewalk such prominent publicity while ignoring those who disagree? The most chilling aspect of the whole issue is the main personage’s complete unawareness of what is going on around her. Anyone out there who would dare disagree about her state of consciousness? Well then, tell me what poor Terri Schiavo is thinking. Has she given permission for her face and body to be shown around the world as if she’s a circus freak. What an absolutely sickening, perverse misuse of religion and politics, maybe only one grade less reprehensible than what has been going on these past years around the U.S. of A. May Terri Schiavo find peace at last, and may she and we finally be redeemed from the self-serving exhibitionists on the sidewalk, in Congress and all over the U.S. nowadays.

  • andrew

    I’d say it’s unlikely that anyone’s going to track down this house based solely on the photo. The address isn’t visible. You’re more likely to find the guy in the phone book.
    I don’t believe the photo does set a standard for what is and isn’t invasive. Rather, it asks us to consider what that standard is. The sign reminds us that this is the private residence of someone who wants to be left alone, and also implies that in the absence of a sign, his wishes would be ignored. The protesters on the sidewalk show us the legal, not the moral, limits of invasiveness. So the photo invites us to consider the moral limits.

  • Joan

    Thank you Quentin for mentioning Baby Sun. I just saw his photo along with his mother who did not want him removed from life support but it was done anyway. Baby Sun is dead against his mothers wishes. Where are the protestors for him? Look at the photo in the Houston Chronicle. I am really outraged with our Congress wasting time on this nonsense. And passing bills that may eventually set a precedent so that those of us able to pay…must be kept on life support while the poor can have a “dignified death”.

  • Quentin

    Andrew, you’re probably right, no one will be able to track down the house on the basis of the photo. But it will doubtless give some people the idea to look for it, in the telephone book or however. After all, these plaster nativity shepherd impersonators found the house, surely with the help of someone who took the trouble to locate it. The NY Times is definitely remis in publishing the picture: what bombastic sensationalims all this is, remeber baby ‘Sun’ and realize how we are all being ripped off by Mr. G.W. Bush.
    Right, the photo doesn’t set a standard for what is invasive; it is simply invasive without qualms. How do you think these demonstrators knew about the legal limits of invasiveness? The photo doesn’t invite anything: it is simply a crude way for the NY Times to sell newspapers, like the NY Post, nothing else. With or without a sign, it is illegal to stray from the sidewalk and walk on someones’s front lawn. So, they very correctly and decorously keep to the sidewalk. Oh, oh, oh…what perfectly good people they are.

  • MonsieurGonzo

    get a life.

  • Quentin

    See the polls showing how most U.S. persons side with her husband and reject the government’s role, highlighting how freaked out these nativity impersonators are. The polls, which the media seem to be ignoring, for reasons which anyone can guess at: maybe letting Terri Schiavo find peace sells less newspapers than a bunch of religious fanatics who pose for photos.
    Right, Monsieur Gonzo, maybe a soul too.

  • http://www.harpers.org/TheApocalypseWillBeTelevised.html MonsieurGonzo

    “idiotic hallucinations of the cow states” - H.L. Mencken
    Gallileo’s first mistake: truth does not persuade :-/

  • aethorian

    Hmmm. We can’t see the protestors’ facial expressions, any red tape, or their signs, so we’re resorting to a critique of their posture and alleged over-obeisance to local street regulations? It would certainly be a lot more dramatic if they charged the front door en masse, as compared to being respectful of the property line, but I think there are some pretty leading questions here for a TAT test.
    Perhaps it’s more practical to discuss the question about photography and privacy, particularly when life and death issues are concerned. Regardless of pro or con foreground subjects, is the photograph itself an encroachment upon Michael Schiavo’s private home and property?
    FindLaw discusses the problem in the following article:

    Photography and Privacy in Cases of Death and Injury:
    Princess Diana, Michael Skupin, And Dale Earnhart

    But interestingly, these differences relate not so much to the content of the footage at issue [the death of Princess Diana]—which was uniformly graphic—as to who was being depicted and whether or not the person would have wanted to be portrayed in that light. This indicates that although we may pretend to have an absolute concept of privacy, our definition of privacy is, instead, an increasingly individualized one.

    …we should stop thinking of privacy as a question of what we see, and do not see, and begin to think of it as a question of what the subject wants us to see, or not see, and why.

    Does the desire of the public to view “news” (whatever that means) outweigh the right of an individual to maintain their privacy?

  • http://patriot65.blogspot.com Kevin Coyne

    What an “obvious manipulation” of a picture. You wouldn’t even be hired by the “worst” photo retouching company. It’s too bad that you cannot be sued for your blatent misrepresentation. I will pray for you.

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