About to Die: How News Images Move the Public

About to Die: How News Images Move the Public

by Barbie Zelizer (Author)


Images of people about to die surface repeatedly in the news, particularly around the difficult and unsettled events of war, political revolution, terrorism, natural disaster, and other crises. Their appearance raises questions: What equips an image to deliver the news; how much does the public need to know to make sense of what they see; and what do these images contribute to historical memory? About To Die addresses these questions by using images of imminent death as a litmus test for considering news imagery and visual meaning more broadly. The depictions, freezing action at the elemental moment when a person's contribution to history is registered, elicit contemplation and emotion. Used in ways that counter traditional understandings of both journalistic practice and the public's response to news, such images drive the public encounter with important events through impulses of implication, conditionality, hypothesis and contingency, rather than through evidentiary force. These images call on us to rethink both journalism and its public response, and in so doing they suggest both an alternative voice in the news-a subjunctive voice of the visual that pushes the 'as if' of news over its 'as is' dimensions-and an alternative mode of public engagement with journalism-an engagement fueled not by reason and understanding but by imagination and emotion. Tracking events as wide-ranging as the 1906 San Francisco Earthquake, Holocaust, Vietnam War, famine, Intifada, 2004 tsunami, and 9/11 and the 'war on terror,' this book suggests that a different kind of news relay, producing a different kind of public response, has settled into our information environment. It is in a development that has profound and under-explored implications for society's collective memory, the full breadth of which are tackled here.



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More Information

Format: Paperback
Pages: 432
Publisher: OUP USA
Published: Dec 2010

ISBN 10: 0199752141
ISBN 13: 9780199752140

Media Reviews
Zelizer bolsters her arguments with extensive primary research, including readers' reactions from letters to the editor and blog postings regarding daring and shocking images. Her seventy-nine pages of notes are a treasure trove to readers and researchers because they are so detailed and thorough. * Journalism History *
Why are some deaths fit spectacles for the camera and others off-limits? What philosophical and social purposes do news images serve? Barbie Zelizer answers such questions in this ambitious new book, a stunning examination of a little-explored aspect of modern journalism. * Phillip Knightley, author of The First Casualty: The War Correspondent as Hero and Myth-Maker From The Crimea To Kosovo *
In Barbie Zelizer's most powerful, profound, and disturbing work, she shows that news photos do not document reality but are suspended precariously between the 'as is' and the 'as if,' touching feelings, touching off imaginations. With an astonishing cascade of evidence about iconic news images and the stories behind them, Zelizer offers little comfort, no certainty, but much illumination. * Michael Schudson, author of Why Democracies Need an Unlovable Press *
About to Die is an audacious and often chilling examination of how visual media handle the moment of death, from engravings of the Great Chicago Fire of 1871 to the Pacific tsunami of 2004. With an obvious and admitted debt to the academy's favorite photography buff Susan Sontag, Zelizer treats these images as both rare and powerful. * The Austin Chronicle *
An enlightening new book. * Slate.com *
Author Bio
Zelizer is Raymond Williams Chair of Communication and the Director of the Scholars Program in Culture and Communication at the Annenberg School for Communication at the University of Pennsylvania. She is the editor of several collections and the author of Remembering to Forget: Holocaust Memory through the Camera's Eye and Covering the Body: The Kennedy Assassination, the Media, and the Shaping of Collective Memory.