When I was going through my teen years there was no such thing as the Internet; or even its predecessor AARPNET, and much of what we got for news of what was happening in the world came from magazines and newspapers. Even at that point television wasn’t the predominate method of getting news; although I think that really changed with the assassinations of JFK and MLK. For my family with the constant influx of magazines like Time and Newsweek dinner time discussions revolved around the events as written and photographed within their pages.
As much as I know find myself surrounded with more news and information on a daily basis than I could ever have imagined when compared to my youthful access to world events in the past; I still think back to those times and wonder if the treasure that those magazines were as I pulled them from our mailbox at the end of our lane gave me a clearer window into the world than what the constantly updating feeds do today.
This thought was brought to a certain clarity when I read a post by Jason Kottke on his blog called kottke.org in which he relates a story of Eddie Adams who gave an interview to Jonah Goldberg in the National Review. In the interview Eddie states unequivocally that he wishes he had never taken the picture of General Nguyen Ngoc Loan shooting a man in the head in the middle of a Vietnam street, It was this photograph that won Eddie Adams a Pulitzer Prize but as Eddie wrote in the Times magazine once and quoted in Jonah’s post:
“The general killed the Viet Cong; I killed the general with my camera. Still photographs are the most powerful weapon in the world. People believe them, but photographs do lie, even without manipulation. They are only half-truths. What the photograph didn’t say was, ‘What would you do if you were the general at that time and place on that hot day, and you caught the so-called bad guy after he blew away one, two or three American soldiers?’”
This one photograph had a profound effect around the world and affected many people. During this time there was another photograph as well that spoke to the soul of the the country – the soul of the world and that was the one taken by John Filo on May 4th 1970 at Kent State University. That is the photograph you see at the top of this post.
As one who was growing up during it was photographs like these and of Armstrong stepping foot on the moon that are forever engrained in the minds of those of use that grew up during that period of time. Over time the guttural effect of them may have dissipated but they still maintain a powerful effect of historic moments as they were happening. There was no staging of events, there was no makeup for the participants. Everything was raw and real and the agony or joy reached out and touched our souls.
It was photographs like those that forever changed our society – changed the heart and soul of many people like myself. It made the loss of innocence a palatable tsunami of gut wrenching emotional reactions. Photographs like those became defining moments of our society as they raced around the world to be shown over and over again. With each showing their power – their effect on our society grew.
Those times though are gone now and even though the photographs that changed our society are forever in the archives of our memories we will never see the power they had to change events happen again. As we have become a society of MTV sound bites of news and photographs are a cell phone away time has become compressed into shorter and shorter cycles the power of a single photograph to effect social change has become a thing of the past.
Instead we distract ourselves with socially mundane things like the newest social network and other so-called social changing technological events that promise to make our world better. We look to lose ourselves in the inanity of things like YouTube or argue over which search engine is better. We look upon mega buyouts of thing like Yahoo by Microsoft as world changing events that will affect us from this point forward.
The reality is that none of these things are not even close to being society defining moments. There is nothing that happens on the Internet whether it be in photographs or opinionated news sharing that can even come close to being considered to be a social bell weather event. This isn’t because that these things don’t happen but due to the very overabundance of news and pictures we have to struggle through we don’t have the time to grasp the importance of any one single event anymore.
As much as we would like to think that otherwise the picture of a dead youth on a campus is no longer a society changing event – and will probably never be again.
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