Mediated Compassion and the Politics of Displaced Bodies


In media's attempt to humanize the impact of war, dramatic images of disgruntled human bodies seeking refuge in faraway lands have become symbols of suffering and calls for humanitarian action. However, some media scholars are claiming that compassion fatigue is desensitizing media audiences to the human cost of war. This article argues that certain images resonate with greater signification that offers new ways of looking at compassion as a form of dialogue. The photo of Kim Phuc, the young Vietnamese girl burned by napalm on the fields of Vietnam stands out in our collective memory. There are many others but only a few attain such iconic status. And as war becomes more politically complex, so too is media's roles in portraying the suffering of children especially in the context of forced migration. The photographic image of the three-year old Syrian boy, Aylan Kurdi, washed ashore on a beach in Turkey and the many discourses it engendered represent a new mediated form of human suffering. As Barthes argued, there is a difference between a photograph that - houts' and a photograph that - ounds'� _ The swift refugee policy changes expressed by some world leaders days after Aylan's image came out in mass media is revealing on many levels. Drawing from online media coverage of this particular media event, this article argues that media's dialogic potential problematizes competing arguments between moral obligation and moral imperialism where culture and race are implicated in policy decisions on refugeehood and cultural integration.

Author Information
Luis Pascasio, Ohio University, USA

Paper Information
Conference: ACCS2016
Stream: Media Studies

This paper is part of the ACCS2016 Conference Proceedings (View)
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Posted by James Alexander Gordon