Regarding the Pain of Others

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“In a perfect world, newspapers would report facts and leave the drawing of inferences to their readers. It is not, however, a perfect world” - Tony DeWitt, “Perception vs. Reality.”
Can anything be deemed as “real” when our perceptions depend on an infinitude of things? This question leads us to believe that reality, a product of our psychology, bias, and overall nature, is unique to every individual. Reality is a variable concept defined by our edifice of belief and perception. Our claim of what is “real” is only what we perceive of it; not what is so. The mechanism of perception is defined by a conflict between the endeavors of writers and artists to establish an actuality and our efforts to convert it into a self-absorbed perspective. Regarding the Pain of Others is an analytical text by Susan Sontag that connects modern portrayal of horror and how we respond to it. Sontag’s rhetoric exemplifies this relationship between perception and reality and ultimately begs us to wonder whether our perception of reality has become insidiously dulled or rightfully galvanized by the stream of gruesome imagery. The jarring reality of violent imagery provokes us with the burden of complicit guilt, stimulating us to counteract what we newly perceive as evil and glorify what we perceive as orthodox.

The realism of gruesome photographs not only appeals to, but develops our sense of perception. The reality of war photography and the mainstream barrage of painful images shapes the way in which we perceive the world and its people. In Regarding the Pain of Others, Sontag captures this relationship in terms of rhetorical questioning : “Are viewers inured - or incited - to violence by the depiction of such cruelty? Is the viewer’s perception of reality eroded by the daily barrage of such images?” (Sontag, back cover). The “reality” of a photograph is grounded and rationalized into perspective by the viewer’s perception of it. Violent war imagery encumbers us into...
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