Firewalling History – Part 3

In the evening, a friend emailed this CNN clip on Ai Wei Wei, Communism, Dissent, and visual culture.

See full transcript here

Fresh from the press. Thanks to fellow EGS’r Vijay for this.


As a complement to my lecture on McLuhan’s views on communication and media, I touched briefly on the issue of truth and media within contemporary visual culture. The topics ranged from historical examples of falsifications of historical photographs such as Lenin and Trotsky, the O.J. Simpson Time/Newsweek covers, and several contemporary examples of Photoshop enhancements on some online news magazines. I went on about the responsibility of journalism and photo-journalism and the impact of editorial decisions on how we interpret the information we consume, always trying to push the questioning of the motivations behind the visual choices made. Next, I talked about censorship and media control in Asia and the role of the Internet and digital culture on creating awareness to this issue. With this I hoped to get students thinking about freedom of expression and the pros and cons of and open media landscape versus a controlled media landscape.

Of course, I raised the issue of Google and censorship in China and used the banned images of Tiananmen Square and the Dalai Lama as examples where censorship changes the perception of history and facts and the reasons behind such controls. I showed some Tiananmen square footage, the iconic image of the Tank Man, which many of them did not know – not because this content is banned in Singapore because it isn’t, but because these events are not within their range of interest and does not belong to their historical reality.  In any case, exposure to these political questions enriches their sense of what visual culture is and the power of images, and calls attention to their responsibility as visual designers.

In my classes, I do a mixture of lecture slides to make sure students get the main points across, but generally I show as many media clips and documentaries and websites in order to indirectly show them how to search the Internet for information. Often, depending on where the discussion is going, I flip open websites and search for materials in class. Today, I somehow landed on Abu Ghraib images as an example of how digital photography and the Internet played a huge role in understanding those images, aside from the remarkably cruel content, which was quite tough to see again after so many years. I mentioned in passing Susan Sontag’s ‘On the Pain of Others’, which I hope students will consult if they are interested.

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