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Aestheticization of suffering on television

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This article analyses an example of war footage in order to trace the ways in which the tension between presenting airwar as an `objective' piece of news and as an instance of intense human suffering is resolved in television's strategies of mediation. The bombardment of Baghdad in 2003 during the Iraq war was filmed in long-shot and presented in a quasi-literary narrative that capitalized on an aesthetics of horror, on sublime spectacle (Boltanski). The aestheticization of suffering on television is thus produced by a visual and linguistic complex that eliminates the human pain aspect of suffering, whilst retaining the phantasmagoric effects of a tableau vivant. The argument of this article is that such aestheticization of suffering manages simultaneously to preserve an aura of objectivity and impartiality, and to take a pro-war side in the war footage. The conclusion is that television's participation in the legitimation of war is more open to political and ethical criticism when seen in the light of the semiotic aestheticization of suffering than when it is confined to the general denunciation of `news bias' and the search for abstract objectivity.

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