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Friday, 30 October 2009


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By far the most perfect justification I have ever heard for the coining of the phrase "Psycho-babble".

Funny. But we all know people who shoot TV and movies are lower caste than still shooters. :)))
James Nachtwey has told of an opposite effect as well...


(check the 4th paragraph)

although I have to say anyone else who did what he did would probably end up dead. I firmly believe that cameras can lend the appearance of being an impartial arbiter, but I certainly won't be putting myself in front of a murderous mob anytime soon.

Wow isn't that the truth. I've been in "hotspots" where basically nothing is going on except the wackos acting out in front of the various news crews. Once you see the footage on TV you would be left with the impression that the entire city was in flames. Such bunk.

Of course with kids (and probably only to a slightly lesser degree with adults) you have to ask yourself not only "How does the presence of the camera affect the behaviour of the person behind the lens?" you also have to ask "How does it affect those in FRONT of the lens?" Whether out of the pursuit of fame, a desire to avoid looking weak in public, a sense of shame that backfires or whatever, there are people who will do terrible things in front of a camera that they wouldn't do in private. This isn't to say that there aren't people who will do terrible things in private that they wouldn't do in front of a camera. It's just that people, while wonderful overall and individually, can do some really horrible things that are impossible to explain.

Best regards,

Here's another bingo parlor next to a church.

It's titled: "Synergy"

"we're still at a very early stage of evolution where it's necessary to use violence as a tool."

Well stated.

I'm with Ctein. I spent 2 years in Canada (aged 8 - 10) getting beat up almost weekly for being Jewish (or other imaginary offences). Everyone crowded around in a circle and either watched or shouted encouragement. No one had a camera. The fact that these kids did doesn't say anything about what cameras "do to us." More aptly, these phenomena illustrate the "Lord of the Flies" characteristic of humanity.

I'm a big fan of This American Life. Bordering on obsessive. But did anyone else find this story kind of hard to believe? I have a really hard time believing this actually happened, or at least, that it isn't heavily exagerated.

Hmmm. Interesting. I'm afraid Ctein has a point though. But especially the comment on Nachtwey struck home, he's an amazing human though! The documentary about him is haunting, go watch it!

I'm with Ctein on this one. I vividly remember school yard fights that would attract a crowd. The crowd would form a circle, and the "combatants" were effectively walled in.

Not only did the crowd not stop fights, they prevented someone from fleeing until teachers arrived.

I agree with Ctein. The thing that struck me most was the knee-jerk response to blame the camera for what is not at all atypical schoolyard behavior. I think this need for a pat sociological rationale to human behavior is more telling than the narrative that is spun around the event itself. The fact that the school officials made the initial connection is reason enough to treat this "theory" with suspicion.

Teenagers in Richmond, CA recently took pictures of a gang rape outside a school on prom night. Nobody did anything to stop it. And I distinctly remember a video showing an elderly man being pummeled as adults casually stood by.

Unfortunately Ctein, I think this is more a human issue overall tnan an age related one.

Glad to see common sense introduced - from Ctein

I agree with Ctein. Seems like a story crafted for PBS. My Catholic school experience was more Lord-of-the-Flies-like.

If the situation is ambiguous, bystanders may elect to stay out and not risk helping the wrong side. For example, is the person being chased a victim or a criminal? On the other hand, filming such an event would be more likely used to identify perpetrators later and thus serve as a deterrent rather than as an encouragement.

Seems that the way to stop mob violence is by reducing the benefits and by raising the price of participation. Tear gas seems to be the perennial non-lethal favorite in many places.

Wait I'm missing something here or… I don't get the connection between any of the comments about 'camera as excuse' for being a spectator to brutality etc, or as an incentive to act out for a perceived audience and the story. Rather i read that if Natchwey had not been there they would have killed the guard anyway and all he's saying is that reverting to the 'photographer' role saved his ass as he gathers it was acceptable to the mob (i.e. he was no longer interfering just watching). In grade six, in Montreal (nearly forty years ago) i remember my brief moment of speaking out against the mob, ok actually just three schoolyard bullies. For a change they weren't picking on me, rather the living personification of Pigpen from The Peanuts and a french one at that. You never saw something so unite, two groups at each other throats, so quickly than some weido going up against the 'norm'. I felt it best to leave the scene very quickly. Sadly it taught me to be a bit more timid about speaking out in the future. We can be to quick to judge what is happening and sometimes to cynical or perhaps to forgetful to believe such a story on i'ts face

I think they did act different because of the camera. If they hadn't been pretending to film the fight, they probably would have been yelling 'fight, fight, fight.'

"I think this need for a pat sociological rationale to human behavior is more telling than the narrative that is spun around the event itself"

I'd go one step further and say that it's revealing that the rationale involves cameras.

I don't quite understand the relevance of the James Nachtwey piece, how is this the opposite? Certainly it reflects well on him, but the only sense in which his being a photographer and his trying to help are connected is that, presumably, if he'd taken up accountancy he wouldn't have been sent there that day.

VERY few people will intervene in a fight to help anyone no matter what their age. You will notice that the man describing the playground scene did not intervene it was the authority figures who had to. We don't want to "get involved".

It may be a desirable trait to be a humanitarian, but it is not a common one. Frankly it almost seems abnormal anymore.

Civilization is a thin veneer. And it isn't passed down via osmosis, it has to be taught, but that takes effort, determination, and purpose, things that also need to be taught.

Camera or no camera the kids wouldn't of jumped in. Sorry to say I don't ever remember any single kid jumping in to break up a fight in elementary school. Sounds like this story was told just so the storyteller could use the line "we've lost our humanity". Nope, just children being children, right or wrong.


Others might say:

"we're still at a very early stage of evolution where we think it's necessary to use violence as a tool."


The logic is predictable. The inanimate object was blamed for both the fight and the seeming indifference of the spectator/photographers. And logically, the toy cameras were "banned".

Following the destruction of these objects of evil, never again did a fight occur at that particular school with a circle of onlookers doing nothing to stop it.

Ban all cameras! Or at least register them and license their users!

"VERY few people will intervene in a fight to help anyone...Frankly it almost seems abnormal anymore."

Many years ago I was at my mother's house in Georgetown, D.C. on a summer's day, when we heard a woman shriek, "My purse! My purse! Stop, thief! Help! Somebody help!" I went bolting out of the front door and was chasing the thief down the street when I was joined by another man who had heard the shouts. We were gaining on the thief when he turned up a short alley and disappeared over a tall fence. We were just about to scale the fence when the thought occurred to me that the thief could be waiting for us on the other side with a knife. I very quickly weighed the benefit and the danger: a woman losing her purse vs. serious injury to one or both of us. We turned back and told the woman we had lost him over the fence. She was very upset. I've always thought we made the right decision. If it was a case of tackling the guy and grabbing the woman's purse back, okay--even if we weren't able to detain the thief. But I wasn't going to get stabbed in order to save a neighbor's credit cards and driver's license. Even though the real danger was probably pretty low--he was most probably still running--it wasn't worth the risk.


Are you kidding me? Does anyone here think this was literally a story about kids?

Being one who grew up during the first generation of "extreme sports," I witnessed hundreds of instances where human behavior radically changed once a camera was introduced into a situation- especially when the camera was being wielded by a "professional" (something I happened to be at the time).

Once the possibility of someone's heroic/insane/justplainstupid exploits being recorded (not to mention maybe being published in a magazine/video) for others to witness, individual (and group) behavior became far less "risk-averse" and far more aggressive.

It was as predictable as the sun rising: "Pro" shows up with some cool cameras and the injuries would commence. In fact, some photographers would refuse to even begin shooting until the skater/bmxer took a big enough chance to make it worth "wasting film" (Velvia) or video (High-8).

The term of art was "Dying for the camera."

A month or two later the photo/video would be published, and the stunt portrayed would come to be considered "normal" or a "baseline" for the next series of actions- ever more risky, ever more "camera worthy." Ultimately, we had people jumping out of helicopters hovering above ramps and vaulting 50 ft gaps between 10 story buildings; at the time, we thought that kind of stuff was the ultimate, although it seems rather quaint in retrospect.

There are two separate but perhaps related issues being teased out here. The first is that the camera "desensitizes" us and gives us the illusion of being mere spectators in our lives. This is the argument, more or less, that Sontag make in On Photography. The second is that people, when posing for the camera, will do things that they would otherwise not do and that the gaze of the lens seems to permit, perhaps even encourage.

I don't think that one can dismiss either of these claims offhandedly.

However, I think that one has to look at the cultural apparatus that surrounds each of these photographic moments and see how much of it informs the response in question, as much as, or perhaps more, than the camera itself.

So the question is, not only, does the camera encourage such behavior, but, also, does the media superstructure employing that camera, and upon which fortunes rise and fall, encourage, compensate, and fleetingly memorialize it?

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