The Politics of Staring

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In the “Politics of Staring” by Rosemarie Garland Thompson, the belief that photography has essentially aided in staring is stressed. Staring is a sort of expression that evokes emotions from fascination to scorn, but the action itself portrays difference. People make a statement by staring, and this allows criticism to occur. Disabilities have always been “normal” because of its prevalence, but Thompson states that society has made the “familiar seem strange” via staring. (Critical Encounters With Texts, p.156)

Photography is described as a gateway to staring, as it authorizes it. Visuals of the disabled allow people to elicit different emotions and act in certain ways. To prove this, Thompson writes about four primary visual rhetorics, which are wondrous, sentimental, exotic, and realistic. Though each are quite self explanatory, each of them contribute to different ideas and thoughts. The rhetoric of wonder for example, introduces not the ordinary, but the extraordinary. People are in essence intrigued or amazed by such pictures. A sentimental rhetoric conjures up feelings of sympathy for the viewers, doing the opposite of a wondrous rhetoric. In contrast, the exotic rhetoric displays the disabled as alien, incorrect, and amusing. It touches upon satire whilst emphasizing the impairment for commercial purposes. Lastly, the realistic rhetoric has the effect of evading distinction and looks at the normal aspects of disabilities. It embraces the disabilities in such a way that it moderates its unfamiliarity to the public.

Society ultimately has made progress with its views, though the views are still prurient majority of the time. Photographs of the disabled can be repellent yet amazing at the same time, and Thompson explores the logistics of why and how this occurs.
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