The Little Red Shirt That Captured The World’s Attention For All Of The Wrong Reasons

Aylan Kurdi’s body was found on a beach in Turkey in September 2015. Lifeless, his innocent body was dressed in a little red shirt and boots. At just three years old, Aylan Kurdi brought immediate light to a crisis previously ignored by the mainstream media and the rest of the world. When I first saw this image in September 2015, I remember staring blankly at my computer screen with tears rolling down my cheeks. I wasn’t sad or angry, I felt numb and empty. I remember being mesmerised by his little red shirt. There is no denying the overwhelming sadness this image brings us. However, there are certain questions and issues around this image that are important for us to address as we look through a lens at people and a world far from us.

 

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Refugees rescued from the coast of Libya. Source

Why this image?

Thousands of photos have been captured documenting the enormous movement of people since the beginning of the refugee crisis during the Arab Spring. The photo above is an example of a photo that would typically be used by the media to sensationalize and dehumanize refugees and their threat to our way of life (Klocker & Dunn, 2003).

‘Images of children suffering form the ultimate emotional argument, compelling us to move from sentiment to action, from the particular to the universal, from passivity to engagement’ (Kennicott, 2013). People around the world reacted to this image. It may not have been for the right reasons, but they saw shame and horror that they couldn’t ignore. (Sontag, 2003).

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Cover of the Independent showing the body of Aylan Kurdi. Source

To look or not to look? To publish or not to publish?

A debate which arose following the publication of the photograph of Aylan’s body was whether or not to show the image, and whether or not we should be looking. Channel 10’s The Project stated that they would not show the image as it was ‘too distressing for viewers’ (Ting, 2015), followed by host, Carrie Bickmore, breaking down expressing ‘I am lucky that I and my children live in Australia’ (Ting, 2015).

“A picture of a dead child is one of the golden rules of what you never published.” (Laurent, 2015)

What is interesting is that the network’s primary concern is the wellbeing of its viewers. That they’re doing their audience a favour by not subjecting them to such horror of the reality of this migrant crisis. What about Aylan? His father? His Aunty? What about their distress and suffering?

A view that some may share with Sontag, is that by capturing images of suffering, ‘where news has been converted into entertainment for a small, educated population living in the rich part of the world, is that everyone becomes a spectator, suggesting that there is no real suffering in the world’ (Richard, 2010). Richard then goes on to suggest that we as ‘consumers of globalized media should refuse to look at photographs of suffering because suffering’s urgency is thereby diminished’ (Richard, 2010).

 ‘Perhaps the only people with the right to look at images of suffering, are those who could do something to alleviate it.’ (Sontag, 2003, pp. 37)

The Independent (as illustrated above) took another stance by putting Aylan on the front cover. By doing this, they are refusing to igrnore this issue and reaching out to those with the right to look who can do something about this suffering. And is that something that we as global citizens should be doing? Educating ourselves about what is happening in the world, and being motivated to do something about it.

The West vs. The Rest

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One of the many cartoons that emerged after the image was published. Source

Laurent expresses that the child’s ethnicity played a critical part of the photo’s reception. He explains that ‘dozens of African kids have been washed up on the beaches of Libya and were photographed and it didn’t have the same impact’ (Laurent, 2015). This is then illustrated by Carrie Bickmore and the world’s reaction thinking that could be my child. Ethnocentrism is a key issue in mainstream media, why do we only pay attention when there are terrorist attacks in Paris but not Aleppo? Is it up to us as global citizens to seek global news, or should we sit back in our beach chairs and wait for it to be handed to us on the front page of a newspaper?

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‘Hope for a New Life’ Warren Richardson. Source 

Other significant images of struggle and suffering

Whilst the image of Aylan Kurdi’s body is one whose importance will linger, there are many other significant photographs which capture the struggle and suffering of refugees. The image above ‘Hope for a New Life’ was captured by Australian photographer Warren Richardson in August 2015. A baby is being passed through the border from Serbia in to Hungary (World Press Photo, 2016). This image won the World Press Photo of the Year, a highly prestigious title in the name of visual journalism. And looking back over the past winners, there have been many which carry a similar theme. Where an audience sits at their computer screen, flicking through winning photographs of people subjected to torture, abuse and suffering absolutely unimaginable.

Moving On

We have two options. The first is to look away. We can ignore this little boy, face down on a beach, and lay on our beach chairs and carry on with our lives. Something the Australian government would prefer to do. Or we can choose to look, we can choose to be upset, confronted or angry. And we can choose to do something about it.

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When I went to the ‘Let Them Stay’ rally in Wollongong on the 20th March 2016.

 

Further Information

You can see, what I regard, the most important photo of 2015, Aylan Kurdi found on the Turkish beach, here.

You can see the Project’s take on reporting this news here. 

References

Klocker, N & Dunn, K. M 2003, Who’s driving the asylum debate? Newspaper and government representation of asylum seekers, ‘Media International Australia incorporating media and policy’, No.109, pp. 71-92

Laurent, O 2015, ‘What the image of Aylan Kurdi says about the power of photography’, Time, 4 September, viewed 19 March 2016, http://time.com/4022765/aylan-kurdi-photo/

Kennicott, P 2013, ‘Why Syria’s images of people suffering haven’t moved us’, The Washington Post, 13 September, viewed 20th March 2016, https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/why-syrias-images-of-suffering-havent-moved-us/2013/09/13/30407f98-1bb3-11e3-8685-5021e0c41964_story.html

Richard, F 2010, ‘The Thin Artefact: On Photography and Suffering’, The Nation, 23 November, viewed 19 March 2016, http://www.thenation.com/article/thin-artifact-photography-and-suffering/

Sontag, S 2003, Regarding the Pain of Others, Chapter 3, Hamish Hamilton, London, England, pp. 36-52

Ting, I 2015, ‘The Project’s Carrie Bickmore breaks down over image of drowned Syrian toddler’, The Sydney Morning Herald, 4 September, viewed 19 March 2016, http://www.smh.com.au/entertainment/tv-and-radio/the-projects-carrie-bickmore-breaks-down-over-image-of-drowned-syrian-toddler-20150904-gjetma.html

World Press Photo, 2016, ‘World Press Photo of the Year’, World Press Photo, 28 August 2015, http://www.worldpressphoto.org/collection/photo/2016/spot-news/warren-richardson

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

How Important Are Your Selfies?

“Status is: one’s value and importance in the eyes of the world” ~ Alain de Botton

A quick Google search of my name (below) doesn’t really reveal anything too surprising (thank god). Firstly, my Facebook profile. Secondly, my Do It In A Dress page, a fundraising campaign I participated in last year to raise money to educate girls in Sierra Leone. Third is Twitter, a platform I should probably use more but don’t. Then a lovely assortment of images from a variety of different sites. My blog sadly doesn’t appear until the bottom of the page, and then there’s a few other social platforms like Pinterest and LinkedIn. I’m always online, whether it’s Facebook, Instagram or Snapchat… I’m always looking for new things to share and to follow what people are up to.

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And why is this google search important? It’s a starting point for finding out more about myself. And how do people access this? Because I share it myself.

Self representation 

On Facebook this month (so far) I’ve shared 5 links to my blog, 2 articles to websites about social issues like women’s rights, uploaded 2 photos (1 photo with 60likes, and the other with 177likes), and been tagged in 4 photos (where 3 of them are incredibly unflattering – it looks like I’m a glitterfied zombie, or halfway through a lazy sneeze).

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The picture of my eyes that circulated my friends Facebook newsfeed and got a whopping 56 likes. Thanks guys…

According to The New York Times Customer Insight Group research conducted on ‘why people share,’ there are a number of different reasons why people share things online. And I’ve done all of them. Entertainment: a funny meme or dog video. Defining Ourselves: posting nice photos of myself or sharing a blog post. Relationships: sharing an old photo with a friend or posting on their wall for their birthday. Self fulfilment: satisfying the need to keep in touch with friends. And to support a cause: to show what you’re passionate about.

All of these aspects, while they appear in the interest the people around us, they’re  predominantly self centred. I share a post online because at the end of the day, I want certain people to perceive me in a certain way. And yes, even allowing the horrible photos (as demonstrated above) to be on my timeline is purposeful because (I hope) it demonstrates that I don’t take myself too seriously and can laugh at myself.

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An infographic on why we share things online according to the New York Times Customer Insight Group. And I can acknowledge that I’ve shared things online for all of these reasons. Source

In fact, a recent study discovered that ‘self-shooting is an engaged, self-affirmative and awareness raising pursuit, where their body, through critically self-aware self-care, emerges as agentic, sexual and distinctly female. Thus, this is a reading of selfies as a practice of freedom’ (Tiidenburg & Cruz, 2015). However, an important question that arises from this research is what are these people being free or liberated from and how does this imply enslavement? On a fundamental note, Kim Kardashian has the ultimate freedom, she has a job (whatever it is), a roof over her head, food to eat and a family to be apart of. However, she is routinely criticised in the media, and some could say enslaved by the pressure to perform. Some may argue that her book Selfish is her way of owning what she has and refusing to let anyone define her.

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Kim Kardashian’s selfie which graces the cover of her book Selfish. Source

“The Like is the wordless nod of support in a loud room.” – Seiter, 2015

Perception of Others

However, how Kim K or I represent ourselves is somewhat benign as ‘our identity is powered and influenced by other people’ (Evans, 2016) where our status and importance is determined by the people around us. And if we are constantly worried about how people are perceiving us, then this can lead to status anxiety. Many times I have asked a friend, even text someone to ask if they think this filter looks ok on a photo, or if the caption is witty enough. It’s very rare that I’ll post a picture without with approval of one of my friends first. And whilst I don’t consider this a crippling anxiety that keeps me up at night, it’s definitely a routine I’ve got myself into when posting on social media.

As long as we’re sharing online to friends or strangers,  we’ll always have some sort of status anxiety. It’s only natural for us to want people to be interested in what we are doing and share a connection over a picture of a video. However, it’s a significant issue when people are caught up in the ‘popularity paradox'(Tiidenburg & Cruz, 2015) instead of photographing themselves for their ‘liberation.’ It’s also an issue when status anxiety starts to dictate who we are and how we present ourself online, because as soon as we start to give in to status anxiety, you lose your liberation.

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And if you’re not entirely convinced, let the following short clip illustrate all of the thoughts that flow through your mind when uploading and sharing a selfie.

References

Evans, N 2016, ‘Looking at ourselves’, BCM310, University of Wollongong, Lecture Slides, delivered 9 March

Seiter, C 2015, ‘The secret psychology of Facebook: Why we like, share, comment and keep coming back’, Buffer Social, 23 April, https://blog.bufferapp.com/psychology-of-facebook

The New York Times Customer Insight Group, ‘The Psychology of sharing: why do people share onine’, The New York Times, viewed 17 March 2016, http://nytmarketing.whsites.net/mediakit/pos/

Tiidenberg, K, & Gómez Cruz, E 2015, ‘Selfies, Image and the Re-making of the Body’, Body & Society, 21, 4, pp. 77-102, SocINDEX with Full Text, viewed 2 April 2016.