Many of us cannot help looking because of what Susan Sontag has called “the perennial seductiveness of war.” It is a kind of rubbernecking, staring at the bloody aftermath of something that is not an act of God but of man. The effect, as Ms. Sontag pointed out in an essay in The New Yorker in 2002, is anything but certain.
“Making suffering loom larger, by globalizing it, may spur people to feel they ought to ‘care’ more,” she wrote. “It also invites them to feel that the sufferings and misfortunes are too vast, too irrevocable, too epic to be much changed by any local, political intervention.”
So now that war comes to us in real time, do we feel helpless or empowered? Do we care more, or will the ubiquity of images and information desensitize us to the point where human suffering loses meaning when it is part of a scroll that includes a video of your niece twerking? Oh, we say as our index finger navigates to the next item, another one of those.
As war becomes a more remote, mechanized activity, posts and images from the target area have significant value. When a trigger gets pulled or bombs explode, real people are often on the wrong end of it. And bearing witness to the consequences gives meaning to what we see.
Unicorn in the flesh. @damienhirst #art #leonardodicapriofoundation
In fact, the more time you spend on BuzzFeed, the more the boundaries between “win” and “fail” seem to blur. After a while, it’s impossible not to slip into a disassociative trance, in which you surrender to the allure of some perpetual, trivial nowhereland, nestled somewhere between “15 Cats That You Don’t Want to Mess With” and the “44 Hong Kong Movie Subtitles Gone Wrong.”
The past is reduced to a slide show. The future is a YouTube video that won’t load. And the present is a jumble of jaunty yellow buttons blurting “omg” and “awww” and “tl;dr.”
What else can we do but click through?