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Thursday, January 04, 2007

How Could They Deny the 2006 Person of the Year's Right to Know?

Much has been written in recent days about whether the video of Saddam Hussein's hanging should have been made, released, and viewed by the general public. Some call it disgusting and voyeuristic. They stand in contrast to a more thoughtful and deliberate group--the millions of people who downloaded the hanging in its entirety, not just the initial TV footage of him being fitted with the noose and mocked by his executioners. In news articles, television man-on-the-street interviews, online forums and blogs these thinkers are rightly advancing the viewpoint that is always so much at the heart of the American peoples' daily lives: a thirst for comprehensive understanding of international events.

On YouTube's first page of "Saddam Hussein hanging " offerings alone there have been roughly 1.7 million downloads. (Staggering evidence of engagement that will surely call to mind the similarly staggering voter turnout in the last election when a full 39 percent of eligible voters thronged to the polls to make their voices heard.) To paraphrase these advocates who argue their need to view the hanging video, as well as the ones of Daniel Pearl and Nicholas Berg being beheaded: Without viewing these videos, one cannot truly comprehend the horrors of terrorism, war, and the conditions and politics that give rise to these monsters. In short, without the video evidence of major events, how do we really Know?

Exactly. This week, authorities gave Crocodile Hunter Steve Irwin's wife the footage of Irwin being fatally stabbed by a stingray, allowing her to destroy it and thus prevent its public release. Clearly, this cripples my development as an enlightened and engaged citizen of the natural world. Without the footage, how will I come to fully understand the circumstances of Irwin's death? Newspapers can tell me that as Irwin swam over the ray its tail whipped into his chest, a poisonous barb ripping into his heart, but do I really grasp what that means if I don't watch it happen on my computer at lunchtime while I'm shoving in biggie fries? In a New York Times article yesterday, Irwin's friend John Stainton says "It's just a horrible piece of film tape." That should be "was," Mr. Stainton. Was. It's gone. And now I and millions of Internet users hoping to reach a more complete understanding of what it means to be stabbed in the heart with a stingray barb will never Know.


Anonymous rcr said...

I haven't seen the execution tape, but I doubt it can be any more disturbing than the Saddam/Paris sex tape that was just released.

Mmmm... biggie fries....

6:03 PM  
Blogger Brunch Bird said...

True story: original version of this post had a paragraph about the Paris sex tape, because a friend of mine and I were debating this issue yesterday and he wrote (essentially), "It's like Paris. I know it's there because I've seen it." And I responded, "Hand to God when I saw 'Paris' in your email I thought you meant Paris Hilton. And I think I need to write a satirical post about that tape in light of the Hussein hanging."

Killed that graph at the last second though because it wasn't working. Sorta' like Paris Hilton. zing!

6:29 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

this is a belated post that's related to your recent rescue...

Man Is Rescued by Stranger on Subway Tracks


Published: January 3, 2007

It was every subway rider's nightmare, times two.

Who has ridden along New York's 656 miles of subway lines and not wondered:
½What if I fell to the tracks as a train came in? What would I do?

And who has not thought: "What if someone else fell? Would I jump to the

Wesley Autrey, a 50-year-old construction worker and Navy veteran, faced both
those questions in a flashing instant yesterday, and got his answers almost as

Mr. Autrey was waiting for the downtown local at 137th Street and Broadway in
Manhattan around 12:45 p.m. He was taking his two daughters, Syshe, 4, and Shuqui,
6, home before work.

Nearby, a man collapsed, his body convulsing. Mr. Autrey and two women rushed
to help, he said. The man, Cameron Hollopeter, 20, managed to get up, but then
stumbled to the platform edge and fell to the tracks, between the two rails.

The headlights of the No. 1 train appeared. "I had to make a split decision,"
Mr. Autrey said.

So he made one, and leapt.

Find out what happened next at

10:12 PM  
Blogger Ashburnite said...

I wrestled with whether or not to watch it. I just kept thinking it was wrong to watch someone actually die- we see it all of the time in movies, but this is different- it's completely real. In the end I watched it, but kept feeling like I shouldn't. There was nothing gruesome or shocking, but it just felt weird actually seeing it. If you haven't watched it yet, I recommend really thinking about whether or not you want to actually see someone die.

11:47 PM  
Blogger Ashburnite said...

oh, but the Steve Irwin tape? If it ever does make it out there, I absolutely do not want to see it. Huge difference between him and Sadam.

11:48 PM  
Blogger Brunch Bird said...

Good thoughts Ashburnite. When I was working at a paper in Carolina I was supposed to view the execution of a guy on death row whom I'd written about. I bailed at the last minute. I just didn't want to have that in my memory bank for the rest of my life.

And yeah, I definitely recognize the difference in the two men. But I'm just too uncomfortable with the idea of watching a human life end violently, regardless of the life that preceded it.

1:02 AM  
Blogger Barzelay said...

You're "uncomfortable with the idea of watching a human life end violently." That's a very ambivalent, Bush-style non-denial. You never actually express your subjective opinion, perhaps because you're apparently a reporter of some sort. Moreover, your attitude toward the subject of your post is inconstant. At the beginning, you seem to be satirizing people who suggest that the public shouldn't have access to the information, but then at the end, you seem to be satirizing those who watch the videos. What do you actually think about it?

That they should be released and available but that no one should choose to watch them? That the people who are the subjects of the videos (Saddam, Steve Erwin, Paris Hilton) should get to decide, to the greatest extent that we know what their wishes would have been? Or, alternately, that their "loved ones" get to decide? That the videos shouldn't be released at all?

My opinion is that everyone is able to handle a different level of violence and tragedy, and each person should be free to decide for himself how much is too much. There sometimes are significant information interests in videos that make people uncomfortable (such as Saddam's execution), while there probably aren't in others (Steve Irwin--except for the sake of learning the tactics of our enemies to defend against the impending attack of the stingray hordes). Why not release videos whenever available and leave it up to people whether or not they choose to watch each one?

9:47 AM  
Blogger Brunch Bird said...

No ambivalance at all. "Uncomfortable" was an understatement. I don't want to watch someone die violently. Period. And I oppose the death penalty so there's no ambivalance there either.

No, I'm not all admonishing those who would block these videos' release. If they get out, they get out. It would be ridiculousness to legislate against such behavior. And I'm not even knocking people who choose to watch them. (I don't go to movies like "Saw," "Hostel," or "Deuce Bigalow," but I'm not going to say someone else can't or shouldn't.) I'm simply calling "bulls***" on the people who claim they watch them for their greater enlightenment about world affairs/our enemies (in the case of Saddam and the Pearl and Berg tapes)/etc. I think the vast majority watch them because they have an inherent morbid curiousity and want to see someone die.

Good questions all.

6:15 PM  

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