World in Motion: Death to the Infidel (in HD)

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I will warn you in advance, this article contains EXTREMELY grotesque and disturbing images. I will also divert you to our disclaimer. 

That is the end of that and not a quagmire in sight. Lucky the NTC (National Transitional Council) didn’t didn’t find and then fatally mame Gaddafi last week when Blackberry and Apple had gone into meltdown or we may never have gotten the spectacularly disturbing video footage of it all. Brotherly Leader and Guide of the First of September Great Revolution of the Socialist People’s Libyan Arab Jamahiriya Col. Muammar Muhammad al-Gaddafi is officially dead, my sources? My eyes and in a minute (if you have the stomach) yours too.

Within a few minutes of the news breaking at 12.30pm that NTC forces had captured Gaddafi information rapidly began to surface that he had been shot in both legs whilst being pulled out of a drain, as the BBC succinctly put it “to stop him from running away”. No less than a few minutes later the same presenters were questioning NTC leaders as to whether this rudmentary maiming had in fact taken the once seemingly untouchable leader’s life. By the time Neighbours started at 1.45pm Al Jazeera had pronounced the leader dead, with photo confirmation following at 3pm, by 3.30pm Gaddafi’s death was confirmed by the good ol’ trustworthy BBC and no less than two hours later some truly low quality yet shocking cameraphone footage emerged of Gaddafi in the last throes of life, bloodied and frail. The next footage to emerge manically showed his dead body being dragged and tossed about by joyful Libyans.

The brutal irony of this footage is that Amnesty International have been forced into the unenviable position of calling for an independent enquiry surrounding the death of a man famed and feared for his brutally violent totalitarian regime. But it does bring up a very serious question regarding our own double standards. Where Amnesty are at least reading from the same cue cards as usual, the international western media have had no problem at all throwing the mess that is theirs out of the window.

Criticising the depiction and glorification of violence has always been a sure fire way to get the British public not only whipped up into a frenzy but also putting their hands in their pockets to pay for copy. We all know the media standpoint on hip hop (it invented gun crime), violent video games (it invented serial killers) and parading dead soldiers across TV (it invented terrorism). Yet today this moral highground seems to have suffered something of a landslide. As I write this, the BBC has had the above footage of Gaddafi’s dead body practically on a loop for at least the past hour. I think we can just about kiss goodbye to the watershed.

My point is not that Gaddafi wasn’t a violently demented psychopath who got what was coming to him, but that we are not living by the standards which we have violently imposed upon others. Last time I checked, parading dead bodies across TV wasn’t a war crime and it is not a violation of the geneva convention, however it is extremely bad taste and it got Al Jazeera in a lot of hot water[board] with the British government and the higher encheleons of the US military when they showed images of two dead British soldiers in 2003. Whilst the US government controversially released images of Saddam Heusein’s sons, Uday and Qusay, after they had been blown to bits and pieced back together following a missile strike in 2003. Then there is the little matter of this widely available video and the catharsis that it seemingly bought…

More recently there has been an overwhelming cry for the images of public enemy number one, Osama Bin Laden’s body to be made public, particularly from demented neo nazi Sarah Palin. It’s indicative of the times and our dependence on media images in order to garner truth, we intrinsically believe an image as a truth. But, being the simpleton that she is Palin can’t see the way in which that would be violently inflammatory and solidify Bin Laden’s position as a Martyr. Perhaps that’s the reason we can see the death face of Gaddafi on repeat on the BBC. The only people who actually liked him were either on his pay roll or related to him, more importantly he stood for nothing but repression of his own people punctuated by a paranoid anti-western rhetoric which had long since worn thin by the time of his death.

Tomorrow’s world will be a different place because of these images, humanity (especially the west) is finally coming to terms with its own mortality and perhaps this is the no holes barred, ringside, watershed moment. When have the images of corpses been so unapologetically splashed across the front pages of British media for millions (including children) to digest en mass? In the past we have only been offered the images of faceless death or death on an incomprehensible scale or at worst death concealed by pixels the size of your thumb, nothing as immediate and intimate as this snuff news. We have never been afforded the view into the eyes of a man as he dies, helplessly surrounded by his enemies and again as he lies inert, the sun glistening in pools of his still wet blood as he is dragged about in the dust.

It scares me, we have crossed a boundary that most of us don’t often cross, affording ourselves complete clarity of the moment of death without the defences of pageantry, ritual or medical control. It’s a moment we have spent a lot of time skirting around or altogether avoiding, the psyche is capable of deploying complex psychological mechanisms to deal with its own mortality and that of others. Perhaps that black hole between life and death has to remain a mystery to most of us in order to retain its intimacy if we are ever forced to face it. Otherwise it becomes just another media image that can be framed to conceal its real meaning. Even if it is framed as reality.

There are numerous other issues surrounding this seminal moment, specifically the future and long term stability of Libya and its people. Comments and criticisms welcome.

Words:

Marcus Harris

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