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Why All the Gaddafi Death Porn?

Now that the Libyan leader has been killed, what good does it do to circulate footage of his body being desecrated?

The world is breathing a sigh of relief today. Moammar Gaddafi is dead, which means the months-long battle for the soul of Libya—during which Gaddafi loyalists slaughtered rebels wholesale—is almost over. The tribal fight to see who will control the country in Gaddafi's absence is the ugly next step, but for now, the oppressive and murderous dictator is gone, which is a net gain.


Unfortunately, as they did following Osama bin Laden's killing, people everywhere are celebrating in the wake of Gaddafi's death. Americans got drunk and made out in front of the White House the night bin Laden was shot in the face by U.S. Navy Seals. Today, a video shows Gaddafi's lifeless and bloodied body being dragged through the streets as people run up to kick it. One of the men who hunted down and killed Gaddafi was lifted onto his countrymen's shoulders. It was easier for him to hoist Gaddafi's golden handgun, a spoil of war, for the cameras from up there.

All the Libyan corpse-stomping is tasteless but understandable. Gaddafi murdered and tortured the Libyan people for more than 30 years, long enough to breed waves of violent resentment. One would hope that an angry Libyan citizen would have the restraint to not literally kick a man while he's down, but sometimes emotions trump common sense. What's less understandable is all the news outlets broadcasting the footage of Gaddafi's desecration.

War reporting can be a messy business, and occasionally it makes sense to present graphic images from wartime to the world. Some have made the case, for instance, that the brutal photographs to emerge from the Vietnam War helped turn the United States against the ill-planned Asian engagement. But the Gaddafi video making the internet rounds today doesn't attempt to offer a greater understanding of war and its costs at all. Rather, it's death porn, a snuff film in which Gaddafi, a criminal human being but a human being nonetheless, is treated like nothing more than a piñata. What are we supposed to glean from the footage? That Gaddafi is dead? That Libyans are angry with him? Do we need to see Libyans kicking and spitting on a dead body to understand either of those facts?

It's not prudish to object to this video, nor is it shying away from reality. It's simply asking people to consider what they're trying to accomplish by playing it. Sadly, it seems as if most outlets publishing the corpse-kicking don't know why they're doing it themselves. When Newsweek editors put the video on the magazine's Tumblr today, they wrote, "We’re posting it because many others have, and at this point, it’s a video asset in the history books." One would sincerely hope "because many others have" isn't the guiding principle behind these sorts of decisions.

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