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January 22, 2010

Why and How I Lost It Yesterday (Over CNN “Getting Off” On a Haitian Victim Rescue)

I confess. I lost it yesterday.

If you saw my post (Please Stop, Anderson. Just STOP), I appealed for readers to contact CNN and use the Twitterverse to complain about Anderson Cooper’s visual exploitation of the Haitian people.

Over the course of the day, I heard from several visually-savvy friends who empathized with my need to vent. At the same time, however, several also wrote some variation of this:

While I applaud your effort, I am curious about why. I haven’t lived with a TV for about 8 years so I catch CNN/ cable news pretty infrequently. … So, I’d like to make an appeal for those of us who don’t tune in to CNN: What exactly is the problem? Is Cooper emblematic of contemporary Journalism? Or, has he just gone too too far?

Fair enough. (And yes, too far.)

Without delving into what upset(s) me about the split screen shots I led yesterday’s post with, let me explain the next four screen grabs and describe what happens in Tuesday’s CNN Haiti rescue video so you’ll see what set me off.

****** ********* ******

Anderson-Rescue-7a.jpg

Anderson Cooper sets up the piece by saying there’s a woman who was trapped alive in the rubble near the national cathedral almost a week after the earthquake. Meanwhile Rick Sanchez, the anchor, is bubbling over the fact he got a text message, then a phone call from the son of the trapped women, who told the anchor that his mother had gone to the cathedral before the earthquake.

Anderson Rescue 6.jpg

They then offer up the most callous still image of the woman lying on the ground — the woman looking to be crying — someone aiming a video camera at her while the woman lies on the ground like she’s an item at a garage sale.

All the while, Sanchez is rattling on about how special it is that CNN could actually produce images of the self-same women in the flesh — the two men going on to marvel how a Cooper report several days before could have actually spawned the text message and the phone call to Sanchez from the woman’s son.

I mean, how wonderful that these bones could be such a source of amusement — as well as confirmation of the power of Cooper’s reach.

At that point, the clip segues to several minutes of video in which the woman is produced from the rubble.

Anderson-Rescue-2a.jpg

What makes the video offensive at that point is that, in documenting their human souvenir, the CNN cameras happen to also document the other video cameras trained on the woman. Once they pull her out, the woman, in shock and in obvious pain — looking like a human cadaver laying upon a rickety plywood plank — seems to solely exist as a media object to visually linger over and feast on.

There are at least two video cameras we’re privy to in the clip, likely three. There is the one or two above left, there there is one that comes in from the right, as well as the one filming what we are watching.

Anderson-Rescue-8a.jpg

What is particularly galling, though, if it hasn’t been exploitive enough already, is the last twenty seconds or so.

Anderson Cooper Rescue Story 2.jpg

Anderson Cooper Rescue Story 4.jpg

At that point, the cameras (one person with a still camera) creep closer, then– with the woman writhing, the flimsy covering flying off her, her legs split spread eagle — one of the cameramen sticks the camera right in the woman’s face — also making it difficult for one of the rescue workers to move around him — while she finally gets carted away.

I’d like to step back about 40 seconds, though, and pick up with Sanchez cutting away from Cooper. At that point, Sanchez commands:

Fill the frame with that picture that’s coming in for the first time, Rog.”

Anderson Cooper Rescue Story 1.jp.jpg

Coincident with the screen shot above, the woman fills the entire screen and Sanchez gawks:

… Get me off of here! … Look at this story! … That’s the story that Anderson first brought to you [several days ago]…”

Excited about the blown up version of this woman in agony, notice Sanchez refers to her, not as a human being, but as a “story.” She’s not a person, she’s CNN’s object. Their object of curiosity. Their slab of infotainment. Then, let’s also not overlook the gender dynamics. The way Sanchez refers to this woman is not unlike how a jerk in a bar would refer to a woman as “it” or “that.” And topping it off, Sanchez as good as announces how she, or it, gets him off!

The Sanchez quote completely aside, however, this clip, from beginning to end, is classic disaster porn.

…So maybe I lost it yesterday. But if you find this more thorough description validates my original outrage, I recommend, again, that you go to yesterday’s post, complain to CNN, and then blog it or tweet it. (I added an update.)

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