Wednesday, August 12, 2009

"The Cove" and Graphic Abortion Pics [SK]

Megan, Great post yesterday regarding abortion pictures. As I read it, I thought of the movie The Cove, a graphic docu-drama that uncovers the slaughter of dolphins in Japan.

Once the slaughter was secretly filmed, the images were shown to random people on the street via a hand-held digital player. The secular left, of course, applauds this tactic. I'm not troubled by it either, frankly. Why not get the truth out there?

The flim makers are smart. Let's face it: When it comes to moral persuasion, many times images of death work better than images of life.

To cite a parallel example, the modern environmental movement got its start with graphic pictures in the late 1960's. As activist Jerry Mander points out in his book Four Arguments for the Elimination of Television, initial attempts to mobilize public support for preservation of the giant redwoods produced a giant public yawn. Breathtaking photographs of majestic trees, though inspiring, did little to incite public anger at the timber industry. So, activists took a lesson from the Vietnam War. Instead of showing pictures of pre-cut trees in all their glory, environmentalists began circulating before and after photos. "We started carrying around photos of acres of stumps where hundreds of redwoods had been cut down. I don't know if you have ever seen a field of tree stumps, but it is a horrific sight, not unlike a battlefield."

The public outcry was immediate. "At that moment," Mander concludes, “I realized that death is a much better subject for television than life. Images of life--whether of trees themselves or the finely-tuned Vietnamese culture--accomplished nothing. They only put people to sleep."

The same can be said of abortion. The use of graphic pictures, though often decried by our critcs, is not manipulative, but consistent with other mainstream campaigns of social reform. Shocking pictures have traditionally been used by social reformers to dramatize the injustices of child labor, racial violence against African Americans, U.S. military involvement in Vietnam, etc. What has changed is that pro-life groups (see here, here, and here, for example) are once again using this tactic to reform an abortion-tolerating public.

They're smart to do so, given we live in a culture that thinks and learns visually. As Neil Postman points out in Amusing Ourselves to Death, with the advent of television, America shifted from a word-based culture—with an emphasis on coherent linear thought--to an image-based one where thinking is dominated by feeling, intuition, and images.

Postman’s point (and mine) is that visual learners have short attention spans. They make decisions based on intuition, feeling, and images. That doesn’t rule out the presentation of facts and arguments, but it does change how they are communicated. It means we must change how people feel as a predicate to changing how they think. Disturbing images change feelings in ways that words cannot.


  1. Thanks. The horrible pictures must be shown to quicken the end of the dehumanizing lies that murder preborn children.

    Cal Zastrow

  2. Show the pictures. They are horrible pictures because it is a horrible, violent killing.
    Will it make people angry?
    That is not a reason to hide or not tell the truth.
    Ephesians 5:11


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