March 20, 2005

Curb Appeal


(To examine/refer to larger version — click here)

This is the shot the NYT chose for its front page on Saturday, the second day of the Terri Schiavo rescue.  The photo shows protesters praying outside the home of Michael Schiavo.

What I was particularly interested in was the “No Trespassing” sign.


According to Wordnet, trespass is defined as a willful act that involves the invasion of property, rights or person.  It also lists “encroachment” as a synonym which, in Websters, is explained as an advance beyond proper or formal limits.

The thing I find interesting about this photo is how it defines terms for what is and isn’t invasive.  It achieves this by defining the sidewalk as a proper boundary between Mr. Schiavo and his adversaries.  This effect is reinforced through the sense of authority manufactured by the protesters.  It’s hard to fault their (faceless) presence when they seem so uniform, so pious (as if, in this case, Jesus is literally “on their side”) and so mindful of even the mid-point of the sidewalk. 

(In fact, the photo seems to lend extra favor to the protesters for respecting the sidewalk. You get this sense from the middle figure, the women in the brown jacket.  By appearing further back then the others, her feet extended onto the curbside grass, she almost seems generous for “giving up” more ground then otherwise “entitled to.”)

In considering the trespass question, though, we might remind ourselves there is also an unseen “second column” here.  Just as the sidewalk seems like a justifiable boundary between the protesters and Mr. Schiavo, it seems like the line of protesters form an acceptable boundary line between Mr. Schiavo and the photographers (as well as you and me).  The impression is that, as long as we remain behind the protesters, we have license to encroach to our hearts content.

I have no idea what the journalistic standards and ethics are (if any) relative to publishing Mr. Schiavo’s house on the front page of the NYT — especially in the current crazy atmosphere.

I do know that it won’t do anything to slow the encroachment by the Congress and President into another state of Florida judgment that didn’t go their way.  It won’t help prevent more acts like the one Saturday, when a number of people, encouraged by prominent ultra-conservative religious figures, were arrested trying to bring bread to Mrs. Schiavo and conduct citizens arrests on her caretakers.  It won’t help tamp down those obsessive fanatics who have done their best to put Mr. Shiavo on trial, who will undoubtedly find new questions in the car and truck he drives, and the way he keeps his lawn.  And, it probably won’t do much to keep more people from dropping by, now that they appreciate what the place looks like, and can see they have friends just a few respectable yards from the front door. 

(image: Paul Kizzle/AP in The New York Times)

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Michael Shaw
See other posts by Michael here.

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