The aesthetic of violence

A few years ago I considered writing a paper about war zone and terrorist videos, particularly about their aesthetic. I wondered what type of effect the noisy, blocky, and artifact ridden  images had upon western viewers of the news. Personally I always felt distanced by their rough quality. In some ways their aesthetic resembled what we often equated realism with back in the 1990s and early 2000s -- recall the hyper realistic  Dogma 35 aesthetic as a way to approach realism. As we moved toward HD video in the West, especially in broadcast television, video content from Al Qaeda seemed archaic and even more disconnected from our daily lives. I would further argue that there are ways in which video quality, reinforces an attitude of superiority, if not only a technological superiority.

Daniel Pearl, 2002

With a lack of foresight at the time, I never thought about the inevitable: what about terrorists with HD, 4K, 8K resolution cameras and more advanced delivery methods? How would Western perceptions change regarding those groups, regarding war, or the Middle East? 

This week I was presented with a video I did not watch. The horrific still images were enough. Perhaps even more horrific than their subject matter was their aesthetic, which seemed polished, colors were well balanced and the composition was pleasing.

James Foley, 2014

The deplorable act was presented in a way completely recognizable to me. The Other was now much closer to me, processing video in much the same way that I do, no doubt using similar equipment and software. The difference that made images of war and terror bearable previously had collapsed and I could only look away. 


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