At The Guardian, Hannah Giordis tells us that we shouldn't watch the video of Ray Rice knocking his then-fiancee unconscious:
That we feel entitled (and excited) to access gut-wrenching images of a woman being abused -- to be entranced by the looks of domestic violence -- speaks volumes not only about the man who battered her, but also about we who gaze in parasitic rapture. We click and consume, comment and carry on. What are we saying about ourselves when we place (black) women’s pain under a microscope only to better consume the full kaleidoscope of their suffering?So is it simply not possible to find a way to watch this brutality without exploiting the victim? Obviously there are people who don't grasp the seriousness of this act of abuse, or of abuse in general, but it seems to me that most people who've seen the video have come away horrified. Is there just no amount of disgust at what Ray Rice did that justifies the exposure of this incident, because some people aren't disgusted?
This broadcasting of victims’ most vulnerable moments as sites for public commentary is not new. Indeed, victims of abuse have always been forced to recount their traumas to audiences more intent on policing their victimhood than finding justice. With YouTube and TMZ and all the rest, victim blaming extends far past simply being shunned by your immediate community -- it means having your most horrific memories go viral without your consent. It means having millions of people virtually dissect your wounds, not to heal them but to decide if your injuries were bad enough for everyone to feel bad for you.
It makes me wonder about victims of violence from the past -- Emmett Till, for instance, whose mother, after he was beaten to death for whistling at a white woman, had him buried in an open casket, thus revealing to the world the extent of his disfigurement as a result of that beating, or Phan Thi Kim Phuc, the young girl burned by American napalm who's seen running down a road in Vietnam in a famous 1972 photograph. Is it impossible to look at the victimization of these two without exploiting them? It didn't seem that way at the time that we first saw their suffering, but now we're told any glance at suffering is voyeurism. Is that all our response to images of Emmett Till and Phan Thi Kim Phuc ever amounted to? And therefore is it impossible to watch the Rice video -- or videos of those beheaded by ISIS or Al Qaeda -- without giving power to the assailants? If we once could look at such images non-exploitively but can't anymore, when did that change? Why wasn't our gaze toxic decades ago? Why is it inevitably toxic now?