In Chapter 7 of her book Regarding the Pain of Others, Susan Sontag discusses the way in which our perception of war are dictated by media and especially by the images the media produces. Our movements toward or against war in the past have all been a result of what she describes as “the CNN effect.” We live in an era that is ever increasingly saturated with images. The debate lies in whether images of warfare bring us important information about what is happening in the world and make us sympathetic toward suffering. Or if because there are so many images, we have become immune to portrayals of suffering caused by warfare.
Sontag paints a picture of a modern consumer watching television, holding a remote control. Whenever this television watcher become bored or less stimulated by what they are watching they have the ability and the option to change the channel to something they can more easily understand or something more interesting to them. Whether we are watching tv or reading the news, we have a million different options as to what information we would like to receive and engage with. Sontag describes this processes as a callousing process. We have become deadened and desensitized.
I would agree that photographs of war and current events around the world are important because without them we would have even less of an idea of what was happening in the world. Knowledge is power and it is always important to be exposed to news. But with that said, what the media depicts is not absolute truth of what is happening. One, because they cannot possibly cover every important event that happens and two, because journalists are human and can never escape their own biases and world-views. No matter how objectively they try to report, there will always be a slight angle. So in that sense we are not exposed to enough.
But I also agree that we are over-exposed to not only the atrocities around the world that we become calloused and overwhelmed. But that we are exposed to a multitude of stimulation and “news” and we are presented with too many choices that keep us from focussing on important information that would cause us to become more sympathetic to the world’s suffering. It’s a double edged sword.