Western intervention cannot save the little boy in the picture, as much as the viewer’s pathetic response might demand action. These individual aggregates leads to the article by Lucaites and Hariman, “Visual Rhetoric, Photojournalism and Democratic Public Culture,” in which they dispute the claim that photojournalism, iconic images and “individuated aggregates” underwrite, or harm, democratic culture. An individuated aggregate is, “a trope whereby the population as a whole is represented solely by specific individuals” (38).
This means a picture of something bad happening to a person or to a few people that is meant to stand for many instances of that bad thing happening and, therefore, encourage action and intervention.
By looking at the two pictures I have chosen to examine of children in Venezuela and Iraq facing terrible situations, it is possible to examine Lucaites and Hariman’s claims in a critical light. Why is it that seeing these horrible, shocking pictures should lead to a better ability to participate in a democratic culture? Lucaites and Hariman work on the mistaken belief that an emotional response will lead to effective participation.
They also believe that such intervention is possible, which, if the two photographs of Venezuela and Iraq are put into play, is not always true. If someone sees an awful picture of children in Iraq being hurt, they have no ability to fix it. Even if they think they can fix it, they don’t act on this thought. The same is similar for the children in Venezuela. If they see children starving to death put in coffins in Venezuela and then encourage their government to support UN aid, the Venezuelan government still might not accept UN aid (as was the case).
Anyway, encouraging the UN to aid others doesn’t assure that they will.
But there is an even worst case than this impotence that viewers feel when they see the picture of Venezuela. When they see the picture of the naked child in Iraq or other worse pictures, they have the potential to want to take warlike action. After videos of children dying of a gas attack in Syria were released. dying of a gas attack done maybe by Assad in an unstable political situation created in part by Western intervention, some people who watched the video thought that they should do more and encourage their country to drop bombs on Syria. Donald Trump was one of the people who watched these videos and thought that more bombs needed to be dropped and more lives needed to be lost. He thought this would make him more popular in his unpopular presidency. He wasn’t wrong.
People’s pathetic response to seeing children dying of a gas attack overpowered their rational understanding of the fact that more military action wasn’t the right way to solve the problem. This argument goes onto show that the heart-breaking photos that were chosen for this paper, although try to effectively utilize pathos to create action, most of the time the society lacks any effective participation with the feelings created from such photos, contrary to Lucaites and Hariman’s claims. Looking at the pictures of children suffering I chose from the New York Times galley, pictures that are a sure way to engender pathos in the viewer, I disagree with Lucaites and Hariman’s claims.
Engendering pathos in the viewer doesn’t mean they will react in the right way and it doesn’t mean they will have the power to effect any change in a situation. Looking at the concepts of logos, pathos and ethos, there should be a strategy that is almost the exact reverse of people looking at sad, disturbing pictures in the news and deciding on hasty courses of action. After deciding on a national code of ethics, logical arguments should be made about bad situations that go against that code. Then, once a decision has been made, pictures like these two should be deployed to cause pathos in the viewer. The question is who should be responsible for taking control of this complex process, a question to which no one has an answer. But, until there is a different strategy to encourage effective participation in democracies than simply showing bad pictures and hoping people do the right thing, photojournalism of extreme situations where the path forward is not clear will continue to underwrite rather than support democratic culture.