Clips of protesters dying in consequence of current conflicts appear more and more frequently on YouTube. What do they trigger? How do they change the media and the way we perceive things? These are the questions investigated by RUB media scientist Mareike Meis using the example of the conflicts in Iran and Syria. She has realised that images of dying people, even those shot from the dying person's perspective, are nothing new. What has changed is the quality of the images; the encounter with death is more intense, more intimate. What does that do to the viewer? What impact do such videos have on people affected by conflicts? RUBIN, the Ruhr-Universität's science magazine, published a report about her research.
Authentic or not is of secondary importance
Teheran, June 2009: blurred images show a young women who falls to the ground, hit by a gunshot. The death of Neda Agha-Soltan, recorded with a phone camera, immediately creates a stir on YouTube, is picked up by global mass media, including ARD and ZDF. Whether or not Neda was one of the protesters remains just as unclear as the question if the video has been faked, as claimed by the Iranian regime. Change of scene: a shootout during the civil war in Syria in 2011. A man uses his phone to film his own death, the gunman is clearly visible. Two starting points for Mareike Meis' analysis. She considers the authenticity of dying in these films of secondary importance. Rather she investigates what is triggered by such clips with regard to discourse theory and media aesthetics.
Perspective of the dying person is nothing new
"Between these two films, and between other films shot in both conflicts, there are many differences," she says. "The perspective switches from the viewer's PoV to that of the filmmaker." In the Syrian conflict, the spectator often assumes the filmmaker's point of view and, in the case of the phone death video, even that of the dying person. "Such a depiction of the dying process in videos appears new at first glance, as something that has not been visible to date," says the researcher. A closer look reveals, however, that the subjects are familiar. "I could mention photos of the dying Benno Ohnesorg during the student protests in the 1960s," explains Meis. Assuming the perspective of the dying person is nothing new. During the military coup in Chile in 1973, Leonardo Henrichsen filmed his own death by the hand of an army marksman.
What is new is how intimate the encounter with death has become
What is new is the quality of phone images: the encounter with death is more intense and more intimate than in the era of mass media. As a result, viewing such videos has something to do with lust for fear, voyeurism, obscenity, pornography. Another question that Mareike Meis wishes to answer in the course of her research is what impact do such videos have on people affected by those conflicts. To this end, she plans to conduct interviews with artists who work with these videos, some of whom have helpers in conflict areas who film on location. Via those agents, she hopes to be able to get in touch with other people affected by conflicts who have been granted asylum in Germany.
More information can be found at: http://rubin.rub.de/en/dying-front-camera
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