Agents and Perspectives

(Realitätenkollaps? Zum Verhältnis und Status von Bild und Betrachter bei Terrorinszenierungen des sog. IS)
We are all facing a common problem that is, to a large extent, picture-based: when it concerns the presentations of terrorism by the so-called Islamic State, the media cannot agree whether such acts of violence should be disseminated in the media or simply ignored. In particular, when the mediatisation of an act of terrorism becomes an intentional act of terrorism itself, media reality and life reality form a complex set of conditions and partial relationship of competition. Moreover, this leads to questions concerning the complicity of media organisations. All the same, it is necessary to criticise the picture-producing civilians on the scenes of these acts who use their smartphones to record the acts themselves, or their consequences, and disseminate them internationally. Potentially everyone everywhere will photograph, film, share or view both real and medial acts of violence on the part of the ISIS, creating an indifferent mass of perpetrators, victims and those seemingly uninvolved. As a consequence, the dimensions of media reality and life reality are just as fuzzily delimited as the distinctions among the parties of perpetrators, accomplices, victims, protectors, aggressors and non-combatants. ISIS’ pictures, and above all their use in public media, confuse any clear boundaries.
An old paradox must again be discussed: repulsive scenes are agents of attraction. This outlines a phenomenon that can be identified but not easily explained. A method of collective psychology that assumes an intersubjective perception among the world’s population is not suitable from a scientific point of view, for not everyone is equally shocked, horrified, attracted or repulsed by ISIS’ images of terrorism. The idea of a collective psyche would mean the loss of a view to the potential efficacy and meaning of the images themselves. It is the visual products that transform our reality not only medially in the realm between repulsion and attraction, but that also organise our perception by means of stimulation, thus generating, in a perfidious way, an alternative reality that dissolves the difference between picture and body as well as the medial and real worlds. While this newly generated reality – particularly in the case of indexical media such as photography and video – can be received in a slightly naïve way, the rest is often difficult to perceive in terms of the distinguishing marks between everyday life and images of terrorism. It is essential to work through this rest – the exposure of artificial pictorial means and elements that generate ISIS’ power – that simultaneously instil fear and attract recruits – by examining two examples: a video of a burning released by ISIS’ own media department and the video of someone being shot by ISIS, filmed by someone who was seemingly uninvolved. Both examples demonstrate that their medial portrayedness is formally visible, but that this portrayedness can be removed in effective aesthetic terms in the short term.
By means of pictorial science-based approaches to an explanation, the first distancing options can now be made visible and the urgent need for pedagogical pictorial reporting strategies can be shown. Anyone who duplicates pictures from an organisation that strives to use media bombardment to control public opinion in order to create disorientation and separate society into good and evil should report about the reasons that certain pictures are publicly shown, the potential they have and what power readers and viewers have when it comes to allowing their everyday lives to be infected by portrayals of terrorism as little as possible.