The Falling Man: On James Foley, Dick Cheney and the Morally Charged Act of Looking

The Falling Man: On James Foley, Dick Cheney and the Morally Charged Act of Looking

The awful drumbeat grows. Obama's White House prepares to go to war armed with its new Orwellian "sovereignty strikes" to "destroy (ISIS)  "wherever it exists"; an astonishlngly forgetful media indulges in relentless fearmongering; Ted Cruz and his dangerously inept ilk offer $10 million toward the "killing of these savage Jihadists who will only keep trying to destroy Americans until we stop them”; and, most surreally, desperate House Republicans awash in vengeful hyperbole turn for advice to the warmongerer most "disastrously, spectacularly and consistently wrong about Iraq" and the person most directly responsible for settting in motion the forces that created ISIS  in the first place: Dick Cheney, who reportedly decried Obama’s “weakness” but offered no specific solutions other than urging more carnage in the name of a generalized bloodlust.

Amidst the hysteria, more thoughtful voices are pondering a key event that sparked this "primal scream" of outrage - the gruesome  murder of James Foley, and other atrocities that, in the age of the Internet, are meant to be seen and propagated by a media "hungry for eyeballs." Some speculate that Foley's beheading prompted such revulsion because we so rarely see American victims of war; thanks to censorship by a government reluctant to publicize the dreadful consequences of its empire-building, such images constitute "the last taboo in our era of endlessly transgressive media."

Others compare the images of Foley's death to the iconic 9/11 image of "The Falling Man" by A.P.  photographer Richard Drew, an image deemed so raw and stark it was long banished from public view. In a powerful exploration of "the morally charged act of looking," Tom Junod argues that suppressing such images of atrocity or horror - whether on 9/11 or in the face of Foley's death - serves only to deny history, and the journalist's and photographer's task of bearing witness to it. Richard Drew, he adds, "believes that we should not turn away."

Esquire has re-issued Junod's piece as a fundraiser for a four-year James Foley Scholarship Fund at Marquette University’s Diederich College of Communication. To get a sense of the worthiness of the cause, the heartbreaking "In the Absence of Sparrows" by a poet friend of Foley's, who remembers a young Foley disastrously doing drunken donuts on a frozen lake that eventually swallowed the car (not his), and later marching in New York City against "an odious machine."

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