#32, take responsibility for our own acts of looking

March 5, 2017

Last summer, in “How Do I (Not) Look, Live Feed Video and Viral Black Death,” I wrote:

We come to this cultural, political and media onslaught as individuals but, it is my contention that each of us must take responsibility for our own acts of looking. When we look (or write) we engage in the regimes of visibility—complex networks of power, ownership, and access that frame our viewing and knowing—that surround and inform violence. Accounting for our place, our needs, our actions in the face of viral videos of murder is one within a constellation of necessary ethical and political acts … when we have the choice to look, we are bound ethically and politically to what we witness and what we do with all we have seen.

What would be an ethical look at Fatima Avelica‘s cell phone video record of her father’s tragic arrest by ICE? Given the ubiquity of such images, their sheer unavoidability, is there more to be done then seeing, feeling, and then sharing? I choose two possibilities from my earlier response as a place to start and conclude with a third written today:

1) look askance: “also look carefully elsewhere—away from documents of the act of violence itself—to do the harder work of seeing the ‘causality, responsibility, and impact’ that often (or must) go unseen, even as (or so that) violence is made increasingly visible.

2) look at death’s platforms: “Ethical viewing considers not just our own looking at viral videos but at the broader political-economic and technological structures that produce, hold, and frame the videos that we see and share.”

3) look, feel and then do: Avelica’s video uses sound to effectively produce melodrama. Her anguished sobs render an emotional truth and impact on what would otherwise be a too-common, easily-expendable largely-unshared image of the definitive, daily, and increasing violence enacted against primarily brown and black people by the police, ICE, and other agents of our state. But the honest emotional charge written into the DIY composition of Avelica’s video has guaranteed its momentary virality, its massive seeability, and seen it will be: albeit quickly, interchangably, and surrounded by other things. How could its fleeting (over)visibility be used to motivate more?

Before we look, I would ask you to consider: what would honoring my three ethical looks look like? I might suggest that my previous 31 #100hardtruths, rendered here on the internet as a complex and building series of montages of images, analyses and links to resources—posts that take me real time and effort to write and share—represent one manifestation of this harder work.

Or, I could build a ramp to the viral video, that moves from causality:

to responsibility:firefoxscreensnapz001

to impact: Paying the Price: The Impact of Immigration Raids on American Children (The National Council of La Raza, 2007).

Alternatively, attending to my second suggestions for possible ethical looks, I could build a ramp to the viral video that moves from the broader political-economic and technological structures that produce

Combining traditional and social media with mobile connectivity, smartphones have redefined and expanded the dimensions of everyday life, allowing individuals to personalize media as they move and process constant flows of data. Today, millions of consumers love and live by their iPhones, but what are the implications of its special technology on society, media, and culture?

“Today, millions of consumers love and live by their iPhones, but what are the implications of its special technology on society, media, and culture?”


Why advertisers are all talking about Facebook Video, Fortune

and frame the videos we see and share.


Or I could ramp to the video with possible actions

or agents that can help

to address and build upon the powerful but usually fleeting emotional appeal of what we see and share.

My Brooklyn College colleague, Lindley Hanlon, after another demo.

My Brooklyn College colleague, Lindley Hanlon, after attending another anti-Trump immigration policy demo.

I hope it’s clear what I’ve tried to rather awkwardly demonstrate, limited as I am by the vertical design features of this (and any) blog. Giving time to build structures that hold viral images, and taking time to frame our viewing of them, are possible ethical projects of looking in a time where the speed and volume of image production and consumption equates rather tragically to the speed of image forgetting and a linked sense that there might be nothing to do in the face of the very real violent tragedies that such images record.

I am convinced that we can do more:


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