Those of us who write, for fun or folly, are continually told by our teachers and mentors, “show me; don’t tell me.” We are taught imagery. We are to find nouns, adjectives, and adverbs that provide stimulus for the senses and evoke emotion. We are at a disadvantage when we compete with the visual arts. Words are only what they say to the reader. We are then reminded that “a picture is worth a thousand words.” The magic of high definition television brings us the graphic images of human suffering, natural disasters, brutality, physical deformity, and the anomalies of our most vile sensitivity.
I grew up in a world of religious fundamentalism. I was often warned of an eternal inferno of humanity in flames, or cities destroyed by the wrath of God. That was somehow lost in the depiction of demonic figures with pitchforks and satanic features, and the Sunday school narratives of the flood, David and Goliath, a talking snake, Jonah and the big fish, or Daniel in the lion’s den. I felt comfort in the assurance of the unfailing justice of God in the apocalyptic devastation of the forces of a godless social order. I was embraced in the imagery of being reunited with generations of ancestry. I lived in a world which would not allow the finality of death.
My earliest images of graphic horror came from newspaper stories of World War II and the Nazi storm troopers, Dachau, Auschwitz, the bombing of London, and the mushroom clouds over Hiroshima and Nagasaki. My formative years were shaped by photos of Kent State, the naked Vietnam girl burned by napalm, the burning of Watts, attack dogs and fire hoses to quell demonstrations, flag draped coffins, and body bags.
The graphic images of violence and evil in high definition television depiction may have reached a new intensity. Terrorism, random acts of violence, shootings, bombings, decapitations, and torture are now brought to us live, followed by twenty-four hour reruns, and revisionist editing.
We watched random or targeted mass shooting in two cities in California while we were still trying to understand Colorado Springs. We looked at police photos of the Planned Parenthood shooter, and the series of graphic photos of fetal tissue and “baby parts” that may have provoked him. We saw a three year old Syrian child face down on a beach; Chinese citizens in masks riding bicycles in near-zero visibility; the errant attack on doctors without borders; and the masked Islamic executioner. We watch a candidate for president mocking a physical disability to the cheers of an angry mob. We see dashboard camera images of another black teenager shot, and a photo of a young policeman and pastor killed protecting his community.
We use the phrase “the mind’s eye.” By faith we often come to believe that which we cannot see or know, while we often deny or reject the obvious. We find ourselves in a conflict of knowledge, reason, faith, and human conduct driven by human emotion. Sooner or later we come to what may seem to be contradiction of faith and reason. Either we passively accept the deterministic will of God in praise or worship in a form of subservience, or we accept the challenge to interpret and actualize the evolution an unfinished divine goal of human perfection.
I am concerned that the graphic images of electronic media and the amplification of the pulpit and podium of political doomsday ideology may have diminished the power of the written word in the communication of ethics and logic.
We who write are not innocent. We ask whether the purpose of language is to inspire, to teach, or to confound the certainty of the misinformed. Who among us are the custodians of truth? We lessen or deny suffering with euphemism; we create discontent with anecdotal anomaly; and we exploit the weaker with the advocacy non-substantive meritocracy. We elude the scrutiny of veracity, with the sleight of fallacious reasoning. We add mockery to the syllogistic conclusion, with non-sequential premises. We have the devices of metaphor, simile, hyperbole, personification, and ultimately the option to craft the structure of the sentence to convey falsehood that passes for truth in the mind of the untrained grammarian.
I don’t know at what age I developed a love for the graphic imagery of the written word. I have often wondered at the logic of God’s confounding of language following the arrogance of the architectural fiasco at Babel, and then miraculously enabling an audience of potential disciples to understand their many languages in their own tongue at the inception of Christianity. And now he has numbed the mental acuity of nations, religions, politics, and human interactions with the imposition of graphic images of reality that perpetuate our brutality and the anomalies of our most vile instincts. I don’t pray for divine intervention. This is something we have to fix ourselves. We have to find the nouns, adjectives, and adverbs that stimulate the senses and evoke emotions to compete in our quest for “peace, love, and understanding.”