Black Lives Matter: an (the?) iconic image.
Iconicity: immediate. Its sense strikes you. Strikingly sensory, sense and sensibility sublime. It needs no explanation, gloss, translation, or further commentary. Indeed, nothing could go further, deeper, or add anything meaningful.
The BBC—another icon, or used to be, for quality free reporting—called this image “legendary“; it’s not, it’s the opposite; it’s beyond legends, rubrics, captions, descriptions. They’ve also managed to name the (male) photographer (credit to the proprietor being all-important) and “prominent” retweeters but have failed, in the six hours since they published their “news” item about it online, to name the / “his” (female, black) subject. Yet at the time of writing this her name has circulated online, publicly, for at least three hours And (Monday late afternoon) more recently here, correctly spelled.*
That sort of thing matters.
It says that some people are more important than others. It turns people into property. And it says that property, and protecting and profiting from it, is more important than people. These implications are deeply troubling when we’re talking about the Deep South of the United States. Where unnaming a person isn’t about transforming them into that other kind of “legend,” a transubstantiated transcendent being, immortalised through that uprooting and dehumanising.
Ieshia Evans, you are Iconic.
Here are some more icons. (With apologies for comments around them. O the irony. Also please LISTEN TO BEYONCÉ “LEMONADE.”)
- post edited to add BBC OUTRAGE, and (O the irony no. 2) to get Ieshia’s name wrong myself, correct that, over-correct into further error, and eventually get it right… but “right” turned out, along with lots of other people online, to be wrong (I’ve made corrections on here) and the BBC turn out to have been amongst the main helpers in spreading that correction online; their own legendary and iconic status helps. I make mistakes. (Sure we all do.) Admitting that and correcting them matters.
Dear BBC: your turn…
- several further hours later (I also contacted @BBC_HaveYourSay), no change.
But: here are two further articles (of the many, and there will be more) which you might wish to read, as deeper informative supplements:
- Scott Eric Kaufman, “Anatomy of An Iconic Image: How this photograph of a protester in Baton Rouge could come to symbolize a movement. Jonathan Bachman’s photograph of Ieshia Evans being arrested Saturday shows how journalism can become art,” in Slate 2016-07-11 07:57
- Robert Mackey, “Images of militarized police in Baton Rouge draw global attention,” in The Intercept 2016-07-11 12:08
- update, 2016-07-11 16:30 PST: the BBC has now updated the original article to include Ieshia Evans’s name, as is right and proper. They’ve also collected up the doubtless plentiful correspondence they would have received (I can’t be the only one) and maybe even done a little more actual research and reading, resulting in something more like what I like to think of, in my old-fashioned way, as quality reporting: Kerry Alexandra, BBC News: “‘I am a vessel’: #BlackLivesMatter muse”
It’s also stylistically and rhetorically quite different, perhaps because of its different material, being from the rhizomal open free networks of social media (when used well), and letting us hear from a range of voices. Though in typical Bad Journalism style, as ever that includes some unpleasant #AllLivesMatter racism in the name of “fair balance.” And not enough voices: I’ve been reading off and on, in between bouts of “work-work,” and this small selection is nowhere near representative of the volume (and diversity) of reading-material online. This piece is a quick sketch; somewhere between highly reductive and a professional full-time journalist not doing as good, thorough, and comprehensive a job as “ordinary readers” online around the world.
We need journalists to be better (by whatever combination of talent, skill, and training) in reading. To read many things, attentively and closely and deeply, and fast, often several things at once, always several strands at once, and keep them all in mind, and keep in mind connections to other reading, and read paratextually and intertextually and contextually. Basically we need (or: the world & an open society need) more literature graduates to become journalists; and amongst them more medievalists.
And to produce “accordion” dynamic interactive writing that expands and contracts so that readers can check fuller information and original sources. This is online: column inches, imposing word-limits because of the physical space available on a page? No longer an excuse.
On the other hand. Unlike the earlier BBC piece, “Vessel” isn’t a rapid search for authoritative accounts and for a Top Image and Top Handful of items that take living events in movement and their living breathing speaking shouting people, turn these dynamic agents into pieces in a picture about power, and fix that complex active multiplicity into a singular static “historical” event.
The comparison reveals two very different attitudes towards and perceptions of “history” itself. Could be useful for anyone teaching or learning about Historiography 101…