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This book is about the relationship between the spectators in countries of the west, and the distant sufferer on the television screen; the sufferer in Somalia, Nigeria, Bangladesh, India, Indonesia, but also from New York and Washington DC. How do we relate to television images of the distant sufferer? The question touches on the ethical role of the media in public life today. They address the issue of whether the media can cultivate a disposition of care for and engagement with the far away other; whether television can create a global public with a sense of social responsibililty towards the distant sufferer.
WINNER of the 2015 ICA Outstanding Book Award This path-breaking book explores how solidarity towards vulnerable others is performed in our media environment. It argues that stories where famine is described through our own experience of dieting or or where solidarity with Africa translates into wearing a cool armband tell us about much more than the cause that they attempt to communicate. They tell us something about the ways in which we imagine the world outside ourselves. By showing historical change in Amnesty International and Oxfam appeals, in the Live Aid and Live 8 concerts, in the advocacy of Audrey Hepburn and Angelina Jolie as well as in earthquake news on the BBC, this far-reaching book shows how solidarity has today come to be not about conviction but choice, not vision but lifestyle, not others but ourselves – turning us into the ironic spectators of other people’s suffering.
Distant Suffering, first published in 1999, examines the moral and political implications for a spectator of the distant suffering of others as presented through the media. What are the morally acceptable responses to the sight of suffering on television, for example, when the viewer cannot act directly to affect the circumstances in which the suffering takes place? Luc Boltanski argues that spectators can actively involve themselves and others by speaking about what they have seen and how they were affected by it. Developing ideas in Adam Smith's moral theory, he examines three rhetorical 'topics' available for the expression of the spectator's response to suffering: the topics of denunciation and of sentiment and the aesthetic topic. The book concludes with a discussion of a 'crisis of pity' in relation to modern forms of humanitarianism. A possible way out of this crisis is suggested which involves an emphasis and focus on present suffering.
Few phenomena are as formative of our experience of the visual world as displays of suffering. But what does it mean to have an ethical experience of disturbing or traumatizing images? What kind of ethical proposition does an image of pain mobilize? How may the spectator learn from and make use of the painful image as a source of ethical reflection? Engaging with a wide range of visual media--from painting, theatre, and sculpture, to photography, film, and video--this interdisciplinary collection of essays by leading and emerging scholars of visual culture offers a reappraisal of the increasingly complex relationship between images of pain and the ethics of viewing. Ethics and Images of Pain reconsiders the persistent and ever pertinent nexus of aesthetics and ethics, the role of painful images as generators of unpredictable forms of affect, the moral transformation of spectatorship, the ambivalence of the witness and the representation of afflication as a fundamental form of our shared scopic experience. The instructive and illuminating essays in the collection introduce a phenomenological context in which to make sense of our current ecology of excruciating images, one that accentuates notions of responsibility, empathy, and imagination. Contributors trace the images of pain across a miscellany of case studies, and amongst the topics addressed are: the work of artists as disparate as Doris Salcedo, Anselm Kiefer and Bendik Riis; photographs from Abu Ghraib and Rwanda; Hollywood war films and animated documentaries; performances of self-immolations and incidents of police brutality captured on mobile phones.
Michele Aaron cuts a lucid path through the dense undergrowth of the debate on spectatorship. She revisits the classics of Hollywood and explores films from beyond the mainstream, such as 'Dogme 95' to explore the nature of seeing and spectatorship.
The foremost philosopher of art argues for a new politics of looking.

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