Thursday, March 31, 2005

Picturing the Dead

Posted By on Thu, Mar 31, 2005 at 4:33 PM

Maybe it's just me, but I'm a little confused and disturbed by the way Terri Schiavo's death was announced pictorially. Anyone notice that most news outlets are using a picture of Terri before she was incapacitated rather than ones of her recent vegetative state? Most news services are showing a younger, more vibrant twenty-something Terri, full of life, eyes shining:

Rather than this, a more recent (and accurate) portrayal of the woman who just passed:

It would be easy enough to call it slant, something designed to tug at our heartstrings. Show us a smiling, healthy young girl, and we're more likely to be moved by this loss as something unjust, uncalled for, and wrong. But show us a vegetative woman, eyes irrevocably emptied of life, and we might be more inclined to think someone did her a favor by easing her suffering.

After weeks of seemingly non-stop footage of Terri incapacitated in a hospital bed, I'll admit I found myself made palpably uncomfortable. But Terri Schiavo was brain damaged. 41 years old. Smiling twenty-something images of her cannot change that simple fact. Yet the moment she died, she became young again, beautiful, engaged in life.

Granted, it certainly didn't just happen with the Schiavo case - it seems anytime a notable person passes who is past their prime, news outlets almost always use a younger image of the person in question rather than a shot of them aged or infirm.

But maybe it's simple: we need to remember the dead in their prime, remember them as vital and mobile, one the way up and not on the way out. But isn't it even a little insulting? I, for one, find the sort of backpedalling aesthetic employed here disturbing. It's as though we must sanitize death in all it's messiness, lest we are forced to dwell too long on the ugliness of it all.

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