Unit 3 Post
As you read Gourevitch (147-171) and Sontag (chapter 4 and pages 125-26) think about why we are reading these together. For you post, write a paragraph in which you provide connections between two texts.
While Gourevitch provides a specific overview of his experiences in Rwanda as a journalist, Sontag’s analysis of the power of photography and the media provides a new perspective on our perception of suffering and the implications of its presentation. I think one of the most interesting connections between the two texts was Gourevitch’s descriptions of the Hutu refugee camps and Sontag’s assertion that often photographs are manipulated or staged to elicit a specific emotional response. I remember when we viewed the images of the Hutu refugee camp in class without context I assumed that the subjects of the photograph were the victims of the genocide. I was appalled by the squalor of their living conditions the pile of dead bodies in the background. However, as Gourevitch explains, the subjects of the photographs we viewed were Hutus who fled Rwanda in fear of being punished for their actions, and some even continued to enter Rwanda in search of Tutsis while living in these camps.
Although I still feel horrified that people suffered while living in such conditions, knowing that the subjects of the photograph carried out a genocide against their neighbors limits my sympathy. Gourevitch comments that when images of these refugee camps were published they overshadowed the media coverage of the genocide, and many people automatically assumed that Hutu refugees were the victims, not the perpetrators. This example illustrates Sontag’s point that wartime photography is not always an accurate depiction of the sequence of events. I am uneasy with how quickly my sympathy toward the victims in the photograph changed upon learning of the context, because I realized how easy it would be for a government or media outlet to influence public opinion through propaganda. A civilian will never have a true understanding of the dynamics and horrors of a foreign conflict, so it is the moral responsibility of the photographer to present this information in the most objective manner possible.
Additionally, I was fascinated by Sontag’s observation that the media doesn’t publish photos with the faces of victims in western countries out of respect for the dead or suffering. Many of the photographs from the Rwandan genocide we viewed in class feature the faces of people dying, and children looking into the camera, which is something you would never see if the victims were American or European. Sontag’s point that we don’t take pictures of the faces of our own dead to preserve their dignity illustrates the lack of regard for the privacy of these victims in foreign countries. This contrast also emphasizes Gourevitch’s point that because the victims of the Rawandan genocide were African, western nations did not care as much or take the crisis seriously.