Stark, emblematic images from the 21st century's first decade -- the
Falling Man off the smoking Twin Towers and the Hooded Man in the
dungeons of Abu Ghraib -- remain like the specters of our sins to haunt
our increasingly virtual lives in the Fee (sic) World's twilight time.
The Falling Man in a nightmare come true, the ultimate hard choice:
burn alive or jump to certain death. Perhaps it's like the choice (if we
even have one) between strict totalitarian "order" and wild, brutal
anarchy, or between Nuke Winter and Planet Sahara: our serves-us-right
destiny, our no-one-to-blame-but-ourselves fate.
The Hooded Man is newfangled, star-spangled crucifixion: a man
anonymous and naked beneath a foul, dunce-pointed hood and skimpy
blanket cloak, teetering atop a box, wired up with hands out helplessly,
photographed just for fun by bored grunt captors acting on top-level
policy to "take the gloves off." The policy makers won't pay for their
cold, cruel inhumanities, while the tortured captive -- likely an innocent
caught in the dragnet -- will pay dearly in pain, degradation, and psychic
ruin. And this, we're made to understand, is s.o.p. in our unjust world,
where we're all complicit in the agonies of falling men and hooded men.
And here's another horrific image from the middle of the century's second
decade: the Drowned Toddler, a tiny, kid-clothed body washed up on a
foreign shore, casualty of the mass migration fleeing war-torn, dirt-poor
lands, whose frail craft didn't make it to wherever. Of course there are
so many other victims of fire, flood, war, famine, and whatever, every day,
all the time. But it's the rare images which haunt, which stand for all the
horrors we don't see, as the frantic naked girl running toward us down the
bombed road stood for the insanity of America's Vietnam War.
The Naked Girl, the Falling Man, the Hooded Man, and the Drowned
Toddler spook my image-driven mind, and tell us more about ourselves
than we may ever wish to know. But we must try to know just what these
ghastly, ghostly images mean, and know worse images are sure to come.