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from the wave to the gunshot

April 16, 2012

In Mobilizing Shame, Thomas Keenan recounts how in the presence of news cameras of BBC and ITN (Independent Television Network), Serbian policemen looted and destroyed the Albanian village of Mijalic. Keenan further closely analyzes a line in the ITN video log: “looters out of house waving to cameras.” Keenan writes: “The wave announces—it performs, it enacts—that there’s no hiding here, nothing in the dark, nothing to be ashamed of. And it demonstrates this for the very instruments that are known for their revelatory abilities—the wave says, ‘expose this, this that I am exposing for you.’” The article looks at a how shaming is used as a humanitarian instrument through revealing to the global community the atrocities of the perpetrators. There is a belief (still prevalent) that exposing the deeds that are done in the dark would put an end to them. That  ‘wave’ questions this argument notes Keenan, not by arguing against exposure all together, but that shame is a social contract that hinges on acceptance of certain conventions and will not function beyond the radius of those principles. But at the same time, the ‘wave’ needs to acknowledge the very same principles to function beyond them. If those [universally accepted] social conventions are completely dismantled, then the ‘wave’ will lose its significance entirely. Thus the wave does not function outside of the shaming principle, but rather within it, it further underlines it to reach out for an exterior space of shamelessness.

In Syria, the situation is a bit different: the cameraman and the victim have merged into one single entity, in the absence of international newscasters. The ‘wave’ is for an outsider viewer, for spectators of the global news media who receive the message in form of a ‘wave’, a gesture directed towards them, in recognition of them, catered to them. The same message to the Bosnians themselves was more than a mere gesture of the hand. In the youtube video Man Films His Own Death, a soldier shoots the cameraman down as he is filming the shelling of a neighborhood in the besieged Syrian city of Homs. There are similar incidents, including the death of citizen journalist Basil al Sayed captured on his own videocam. Arguably the social contracts of journalism are not held to be credible when it comes to citizen journalism. The professional journalists are mediators of a message that citizen journalists are the bearer of. The presence of the camera has no effect on the actions of the Syrian army, as it does not prompt them to ‘wave’ instead of shooting. Here the exposure functions outside of the category of shame (from kem “to cover”). The Syrian army is shameless, but not in the sense that the Serb soldiers were, as it is not reliant on that particular social contract at all. If the gesture hinged on the contract for it to perform, the shooting of the cameraman is unburdened by it.

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