Mid-Facebook procrastination session recently, I came across a video titled “[Graphic] Footage Recovered of ISIS Butchering 1500 Hostages Like Cattle.” The picture preview under the post was of what looked like a twenty-something, likely Arab, crouching and grimacing straight at the camera with a man behind him sprawled on the dirt with what looked like a blood splotch on his bare foot.

Call me fucked up, but I clicked. And I’m still trying to understand why.

The title was no exaggeration: open-bed trucks with plain-clothed prisoners packed in like cattle; said prisoners lined on their bellies, faces in the dirt; gunmen shooting the prisoners point blank. You can’t see the bullets or even where they hit exactly, but after each kickback from the assault rifle, a body bounces or jolts off the ground like Jell-O.

After the last clip — in which a procession of prisoners kneel on a bloody dock and are executed by a masked man with a pistol and dumped in the water — I just sat there in the dark of my room for a moment, listening to the dehumidifier rattle. I tried quixotically for a few seconds to place “my feet” in masked pistol man’s “shoes.” To grasp the fact that such evil exists in the world today. To feel something for the slaughtered.

I failed, I think, on all counts, and simply conjured an associative image of Holocaust cattle cars I had seen in a history textbook. I took a heavy sigh, and returned to my newsfeed where I chanced upon a compilation video of babies farting. I clicked and spooned a clump of Life cereal in excitement. Next thing I know, I’m spewing milk-soaked bits across the screen as a baby rips one at an open-casket funeral.

I feel guilty about my laughter. Desensitized surely. The juxtaposition of such heart -curdling and -cuddling content is terrible, and can’t be healthy for my psyche.

It was during the Vietnam War (or the American War to the Vietnamese) that death and bloodshed first entered the average American living room on a wide scale. As the sprinkler watered the lawn and the pot roast broiled, our parents and grandparents gathered around the tube to watch the destruction their country was unloading across the globe.

But even then, what the media chose to televise was filtered and censored. Only today, with the advent of the Internet, is it possible to bypass big media altogether and still reach the populace. And when radical groups like ISIS upload their terror videos, in their eyes, the more gruesome the better. The wickedness of the world in such raw form has not before been viewable to the clean-handed masses.

Still, I’m sure there’s a sizable group out there that would rather avoid watching death, and chose not to click on ISIS’s video in the first place. But I’m also sure I’m not the only one who did click. I’ve never seen someone die, or even someone dead for that matter — in real life I mean — but I can say now that I’ve seen humans die on camera.

What scares me is that nothing has changed. Why I can’t post the ISIS link here is because it would drive web traffic to the video. I completely get that reason, but I also feel justified for watching the slaughter to sympathize and actualize the dead. For understanding more lucidly, the evil that exists in this world. It’s a tricky line to maneuver, no doubt, but imagining without seeing isn’t always enough.

Yardain Amron can be reached at amron@umich.edu.

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published.