Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Toying with the Truth?


Read the following post by the brilliant documentary filmmaker Errol Morris, who blogs for the New York Times:

Here Morris posits that the exact same photograph of a Mickey Mouse doll on a rubble-strewn street changes if the caption beneath the image changes. What do you think of this experiment? Is he right that the image changes with the new frame? Some have questioned the "fairness" of photographing a child's toy in a piece about the war.

How would you respond to this complaint? Does it depend on the caption, the purpose?

8 comments:

nathans said...

I don't think that the image changes persay, but the information that the consumer takes away is definitely skewed by captions. This picture, like many others published in magazines and newspapers, need captions to clarify the intent of the photo. When I first saw this, I got the general idea that this was an image of a war torn country that had unfortunately impacted the lives of children, but a few things were still gray area including who was responsible and the circumstances. This basically just comes down to the trust we have in media nowadays. We trust the media to give us accurate information in an aesthetically pleasing manner. This leads back to an age old question of whether we should really trust the media.

Lizzy said...

First, I have to say that anyone who is squeamish about having a picture of a child's toy in a war setting needs to get real with themselves and acknowledge that whenever there is conflict in a civilian area, children will die. The fact that children are often killed because they were caught in the crossfire is horrifying, but pictures like this are an excellent (if graphic) way to raise awareness.
Second, I agree with Nathan that captions are necessary to clarify the content of a picture. However, I think that we might want to look to our own prejudices and assumptions about pictures before we try to blame the media for everything. Of course, the media has a responsibility to not deliberately mislead people with their captions, but the same image can change based on who looks at it much more than based in its caption.

Bob P said...

I believe captions are a tool that the media uses to control the way a message is perceived. Just like Nathan said, the message the consumer takes away from the message is influenced by the caption, and this could change the entire meaning behind the picture. Imagine that the image with the mickey mouse doll said "The Cost of US Involvement". Without reading any of the article the entire meaning of the image is totally skewed, enforce by the prejudices that Lizzy talked about. I think many people see this doll and immediately think of the death of children. This mental association paired with a caption gives the person writing the article total control over its message that is taken in by the audience.

DPark said...

I think the captions is a great example of media's biases. It's expected that each side of the conflict will have their own respective opinion.
But in terms of the Micky Mouse toy, it's a powerful way to show the disaster in Israel by using an object that links directly to innocence, it's totally fair. This image reminded me of the movie Mulan, when the leader of the Huns, Shan Yu, uses a girl's doll to make the viewer immediately categorize Shan Yu as a ruthless antagonist. It's interesting how society has recognized people who target children as the worst ones, like sex-offenders; they receive zero tolerance.

Sam H said...

I'm not going to touch on what Danny said about child-molesters, for the sake of my sanity and Doc Oc's.

I think that all pictures should strive to contain captions that are as unbiased as possible. For instance this could have been, "a street in Lebanon after an air attack by Israeli forces."

What is even more interesting are the accusations that the doll was planted. Why, if children are inevitably going to be killed in a military conflict, would it be at all alarming to see the toy. Nameless children dying is OK, but seeing the toy allows us to identify with and imagine the child and his or her life.

Morgan L said...
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Morgan L said...
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Morgan L said...

Without a caption this is somewhat of unfair representation, however similar to what other people have said, it is an extremely strong message. Danny brought up Mulan which is what I thought of as well, it makes whoever did the killing look like what they did was especially terrible and ruthless as he used. But that's the point, to get people right at their heart. As unfair as this might be, the whole world is trying to sell something, and this is just a really effective advertisement.