The value of suffering

While it sounds off putting and odd, watching another person suffer can be engaging. That sentence alone is bound to get a few comments however if you think about it, we’ve been exposed to it throughout our lives. This doesn’t necessarily mean people like watching someone struggle on the street but struggle in television shows and books. Think of the Superhero movies that have become popular over the years. If the main protagonist went through the entire movie without a struggle there would be no tension therefore failure to keep the viewer interested.

The term “underdog” comes to mind, which is defined as the person who is expected to lose but still defies expectations and wins (Keinan, 2010). Without a doubt, watching someone blast through all obstacles without struggle would be boring. It’s the reason why films like Rocky was the highest grossing film of 1975.

So if the concept of struggle in fiction is entertaining is there any use or value of capturing real, unfiltered struggle and showing it to the public? Of course. The Independent released an article about dead children that drowned off the coastal town of Bodrum in Turkey. This article included disturbing photos of a dead child that washed up on a beach. While quite disturbing, capturing these moments can inform others about unknown situations and make people think.

Of course, taking pictures of people dying or horrific pictures how you like isn’t a good way about it. Like with anything, there is a negative effect. “The Vulture and the Little Girl” (Warning: Disturbing) is an example of a negative effect. The photo itself won a Pulitzer prize however there was a slight controversy regarding the safety of the child. So much so, The New York Times had to publish a statement regarding the health of said child:

“A picture last Friday with an article about the Sudan showed a little Sudanese girl who had collapsed from hunger on the trail to a feeding center in Ayod. A vulture lurked behind her.

Many readers have asked about the fate of the girl. The photographer reports that she recovered enough to resume her trek after the vulture was chased away. It is not known whether she reached the center.” – Editor’s Note, 1993

Going by that statement, the safety of the girl wasn’t guaranteed by the photographer which implies that they left after getting rid of the vulture. Spreading awareness of people struggling is good by itself but doing nothing about the situation in front of you is definitely not the way to go about it. The Vulture and The Little Girl is an example of how not go about capturing suffering.

With all of that in mind, there is value to capturing people’s struggles and suffering. However, that doesn’t give a reason to disrespect others while they’re down. This should be a given but if you’re the one taking a photo of someone in pain then do what you can to help them as well. Spreading awareness and informing the public means nothing if you do nothing with what’s already in front of you.

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