A Big-time Freedom of Expression Issue (mixed with politics, history, psychology, philosophy and more)

(Warning: I don't normally do warnings but if you're particularly sensitive you might not want to read this entry.  Or read the first paragraph and see if that's enough to give you the willies.  It even bugs me a bit and I'm the guy writing it.)

MetaFilter has a massive debate going after someone linked to a YouTube video of a recently released audio tape of a guy in one of the World Trade Centers talking to the 911 dispatcher in his final moments.  The audio has been synced against a video of the tower burning and then falling at that exact moment where the audio cuts out. 

I haven't watched the clip and I'm not planning to…at least not right now.  Maybe someday I will.  Not now though.  For me, playing the audio against the video clip, though maybe that's “art” or maybe that's a “statement” is a bit too much.

(Actually, I should probably have a warning that even some of the descriptions of the audio by people on that page might be disturbing to some people.)

But at the same time that I'm not going to watch/listen, I'm on the side of the people arguing that this clip should be available to be heard by those who choose to hear it as long as the victim's family has okayed its release (which they apparently have.)

There are all sorts of issues being discussed that are very interesting, even if you don't watch the clip…
– is this a snuff film?  Voyeurism of the worst kind?  No different than the 6pm news some nights?
– how does it compare against the 10x more deaths of Iraqi civilians?  Can it?  Should it? 
– does being closer to the tragedy by knowing someone or living in New York give you more “right” to it?
– do we even need things like this to remind us of 9/11?
– can this death be linked directly to American imperialism?

(Uhm, except all of these arguments are being made by people who are a lot more coherent, intelligent and/or emotionally involved than I am so just go read the thread.  Or watch the clip.  Or do either.  Or neither.)

Comments 4

  1. Anonymous wrote:

    Snuff films are a very, VERY different concept. It's more than just 'filming someone as they die', because dozens of documentaries have been made that contain that kind of stuff, and they're certainly not snuff films.
    I believe some of the legal ramifications of 'snuff films' (at least in parts of North America) include 'malice aforethought' or intent or something of that nature…at some point the person making the film *causes* the subject to die. There are usually sexual implications to “snuff film” as a term, as well.
    In the darker climes of seedy underground culture, the term “snuff film” has a very specific meaning, and basically that is that it is a pornographic film involving necrophilia in which the subject of the film is murdered on screen. And/or dies on screen (but not in a 'the towers are falling!' kind of way. More in a 'that guy just fed her antifreeze' kind of way).
    The argument for voyeurism is a strong one, though. I think almost everything on YouTube is a form of voyeurism. Is that a bad thing? Voyeurism, I mean. (Voyageursim, on the other hand, is generally accepted to be okay, I think)
    What happened to the World Trade Centre was a shock, and I will most likely be flamed for saying this, but it was by far not the worst man-made destruction committed by one group of folks against another. Not even in the US. I don't remember the statistic (Oudot knows), but there were OUTRAGEOUS numbers of people killed in the American Civil War, in the Colonial Wars, and at that nasty skirmish at the Alamo. Okay, okay, so you can argue that it was a pretty big loss of life to happen at one time…
    …okay, um, I'm not trying to deny the importance and the gravity of the WTC attacks and destruction. I'm trying to make a point that I think the reaction to it has been blown out of proportion.
    I will get down off this soapbox now.

    Posted 29 Jul 2006 at 4:50 am
  2. Anonymous wrote:

    I know what the traditional definition of a snuff film is but I think it's also morphing into a generic way of saying a death captured on film (and not even film necessarily, after all this is really just an audio clip with a video sync) whether it was purposeful or not, whether it was a directly visible death or not, and whether it was captured for entertainment purposes or not.
    I think part of why the term is expanding is that it's a pretty easy way to slam someone pretty harshly because of the implication that anyone who watches anything you can brand as a “snuff film” is getting off on someone else's direct death.
    I guess it depends whether you're a “language is a fluid, changing thing” person or a “words have specific meanings that must be respected” person. I'm probably more to the former but can see the value of the latter.
    And I'm with you on the WTC attacks being blown *way* out of proportion. That day was shocking and tragic but as someone said in the thread, 22 000 people are killed on American highways each year. But just because it doesn't happen all at once, no one gets outraged. The political manipulations around the WTC attacks are (to use our newly coined broader definition of the term) a bit of a snuff film themselves.

    Posted 31 Jul 2006 at 6:36 am
  3. Anonymous wrote:

    Sure, language is fluid and dynamic, and that's good. There comes a point, though, when certain words, phrases, what-have-you, begin to lose the strength of their meaning.
    If we started referring to every loss of life as a 'holocaust', for instance, how long would it take for the impact of that word to begin to lessen?
    It's like the word 'awesome' or 'awful' – these words are used in proliferation to the point where the actual meaning of the word is, for the most part, not understood.
    I think by referring to a 'snuff film' as a generic way of saying a death captured on film absolutely lessens…lightens…the phrase. Without wanting to sound like a *complete* freak, if you've ever seen a real snuff film, you might feel it's a term that really should only pertain to the intentional capturing of death on film for the purposes of 'entertainment'.

    Posted 31 Jul 2006 at 3:11 pm
  4. Anonymous wrote:

    That's true that strong words can lose their meaning. “Holocaust” actually already has – its used for any large loss of life although rarely when the death is on the scale of millions. But I would argue that the importance of language evolving outweighs this – as tragic as it may be. Part of the evolution of language may be a new way to refer to a/the Holocaust when that term loses its meaning.
    This isn't an exact analogy but I think of how the GLBT community reclaimed “queer” or African-Americans (which I find very problematic as an identifier anyhow) reclaiming “nigger”.
    Uhm, you should send me an off-blog message to elaborate on your experiences with snuff films apparently. I was never part of the goth culture so my own experience is limited to a really bad Nicolas Cage film. Er, not true – I've seen some of the “Faces of Death” stuff that aren't technically “snuff” films in the purest sense but are scenes of deaths that have been turned into entertainment. And of course, I've seen many deaths on the news which weren't intended to be entertainment but in our current environment, are presented as such – infotainment.

    Posted 03 Aug 2006 at 5:08 am
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