JANEK MÄGGI: THE CASE FOR SECTIONING BLOODTHIRSTY MEDIA CONSUMERS
, Eesti Päevaleht
When I was a child, I’d often sit with my grandma and thumb through her photo albums. I’d ask her why so many of the people pictured in them were dead. “Because in those days,” she’d explain, “not everyone managed to have a picture taken of themselves while they were still alive.” Those cadavers – all of them close relatives – were beautiful in their way. I admired their neatly combed hair, and how well turned out they were, and the bed of flowers they nestled in. I’m still glad those pictures existed, not only because they reflected the culture of the time, but also because without them I’d have no idea what those family members looked like.
Such photos are a thing of the past. Beauty shots by comparison, they have been usurped in the media by images of arms ripped from bodies, heads crushed to a pulp, bodies blown to pieces lying in pools of blood. No one asked these people if they wanted to adorn the front page of a popular news site in a far-off land, murdered, raped, gnawed at by stray dogs. I dare say their wills made no such request.
Reporting on the horrors of war has always had an element of ruthlessness about it. Books on the Second World War that were published during the Soviet era featured similarly grievous images (naked concentration camp inmates, for example) designed to underscore the barbarity of the enemy. The victims themselves were essentially anonymous, even though they weren’t: they were somebody’s mother or father, a member or friend of the family.
No pictures before what’s left of me is stuffed in the body bag, please
Prior to the war, the media too baulked at showing even aesthetically pleasing dead faces. It wasn’t ethical. For a large number of respectable people, their send-off has been in closed caskets, with only a black-and-white photo on the wall or perched on the coffin, perhaps one in which they’re smiling. Death has become a taboo.
Now it’s the norm to show everything, prefaced solely by the warning: “Age-restricted content. I confirm that I am at least 18 years of age.” Browsing Õhtuleht online last Friday, I counted seven bodies in the very first photo – and that was without any warning whatsoever. Don’t get me wrong: I understand that events need to be reported on. I know those events are insane. But sometimes I wonder whether, having shuffled off this mortal coil at a ripe old age, I’d like to be laid out in a coffin in a nice suit and with my hair done, surrounded by floral tributes from my relatives, or entertain information-hungry readers of ERR or Delfi or Postimees before I’m unearthed from a ditch, shoved in a body bag and buried in a mass grave, my eyeless head staring at the sky and my teeth a rictus grin in photos showcased by a bloodthirsty media. Sadly, neither of those possibilities can be excluded, and in neither case do I have any recourse to protest.
Many of the Ukrainians and Russians who have died in the war have become grist to the mill of those whose blood lust is more powerful than even they ever imagined. How else can you explain the fact that the most-viewed news stories are those showing images of the bloodiest barbarities?
Should such monstrous acts be concealed?
Perhaps not. But of the many things that are in short supply in this war, tact is one of them. The reporting on it has revealed not just the extraordinary cruelty of the killers it has unleashed, but the media’s insatiable hunger for clicks and readers’ unquenchable thirst for blood.
Everything that’s happening in Ukraine could happen in Estonia, or for that matter anywhere else. Of course, what becomes of a person’s mortal remains – mine or anyone else’s – is neither here nor there in the grand scheme of things. I’ve been to abattoirs in Estonia many times and seen with my own eyes how animals that are about to be gassed soil themselves from fear, legs akimbo. I’ve seen how complete the sense of release is when the blood had drained from their bodies. Pigs in plastic packaging on supermarket shelves make no complaint. Neither do people in body bags.