Fully unique to our generation, decade even, is the presence of videos with reported news. These videos, professionally taken or informally by people in the scene, give viewers indisputable visuals of the incident being reported. Along with videos on countless number of events taking place in our world today, the existence of police brutality, refugee crises, wars, and other horrifying events have resulted in the reporting of graphic videos. From deadly police encounters posted on Facebook, to Twitter with its graphic war wounds, all are important because they give us personal, undeniable visuals of incidents, news, on a human level. There is a shared belief that visuals that are graphic put viewers in the perspective of the ones in the content, and that will promote action and ultimately activism, whether that be police brutality or animals getting murdered, by shocking viewers into caring. And for this reason people assert — a lot even police — that everyone watch these graphic videos.
On a personal level, I was racked with guilt. I thought I understood and agreed with this argument — that shock is necessary in the dire situations that people in the videos are in and by us, viewers, not watching these videos we were choosing to be ignorantly blissful. But with more thought I realized this argument should not apply to everyone and isn’t necessarily needed.
To began with, when people pressure others to watch videos with graphics such as death, brutality, and other incredibly painful visuals, no matter the motive, it can negatively effect the metal health of individuals, especially those who already suffer from mental illnesses. This has to be taken in count before we guilt people into watching videos that can trigger plethora of reactions in those with metal illnesses and even from neurotypical people.
Another reason this rise of captioning graphic videos with forceful language that coerces individuals onto watching these videos is dangerous since many people have connections to people or situation represented in the videos. Whether it is an immigrant having to see the inhumanity that other immigrants are currently going through in the USA or black people having to see black people get brutalized and murdered on film, both can be triggering to each and they shouldn’t be required to watch such content to show their care for the topic.
Regarding, sadly, the most common type of graphic video today, ones of police brutality, while they are deeply valuable necessities in the legal process and people should film if they are present during such occurrence, there is no purpose or need for non affiliated people to watch black people brutalized and killed. I was deeply disturbed and was thought back to a conclusion I heard that linked public attendance at lynchings of the past and our current viewing of police brutality videos when I saw videos after videos on YouTube with the same title, “Police Brutality Compilation”. These murders have become spectacles people casually watch, interrupt as they please, and immediately forget as they scroll down their timeline to the next post. This not only desensitizes us to such violence and brutality, but it is wildly disrespectful to the victims and their families. This type of dis-respectfulness that is caused by the rising casualness of these graphic videos is present in all video topics, not just police brutality.
As for activism, being someone who understands the power the media can play in liberation, I fully agree they are valuable and should exist, but just because they exist does not mean that they should be viewed for people to act on ending injustices.
While I understand the motive that people seeing the suffering will promote awareness, this belief that everyone must watch a suffering child from a war torn country to be anti-war is inaccurate and unacceptable. One should not have to see visual proof of a child blinded due to war to pull at their empathetic side and finally think “hey, maybe war is bad.” And as I am someone who refuses to watch graphic videos because I can not casually fit such brutality into my day and proceed normally, I read to stay informed, and I feel the need to take action regardless of what medium I get my news from.
These videos are very much necessary because it gives a voice to the victims, provides ground evidence of the occurrence, and raises awareness, but demanding people to engage with violent content is not the way when other options are just as effective to accomplish the goals of advocacy and activism.