November 30, 2008

Mumbai: All About Us

As is typical, stateside visual coverage of the Mumbai attacks personalize the tragedy for Americans while de-emphasizing and depersonalizing the experience of the Indians.

This pattern is observed, specifically, in the five related slideshows on the story at The highlighting of of the Americans victims is especially unusual, however, given the “out-of-the-mainstream” affiliations of the more prominent victims. The two most recognized casualties, Rabbi Gavriel Holtzberg, and his wife, Rivka (#1), (dual American and Israeli citizens) were members of Chabad-Lubavitch, the Orthodox Jewish sect, and Alan Scherr and his daughter, Naomi (#2), were members of Synchronicity, a new age community.

Notice, by the way, how the media photos of the Americans capture them as not just alive-and-well, but also quite personable in warm, familial scenes. In the case of the photographs of Indian victims, on the other hand, most were depicted with distance, in trauma settings, as unidentified wounded. The primary exception (#5) was the funeral for Hemant Karkare, the head of the police antiterrorism unit, although the images of Mr. Karkare still remain rather distant.

Update 1 – 10:20 am PST: Based on the latest information, the F.B.I. and State Department confirm six Americans fatalities out of the 183 so-far confirmed.

Update 2: Just to avoid any confusion, my point has to do with how the human loss is being visually characterized by U.S. media for an American viewership. To that end, I am using the visual coverage by the NYT as a representative example of a pattern in the visual offerings of domestic newswires and the slideshows of other stateside publications. Of course, I would only be so happy to see other domestic examples that contradict this post.

NYT Slideshows: A Night of Terror in Mumbai; Terror Continues in Mumbai; Rescue Efforts in Mumbai; Fighting in Mumbai Narrows; The Final Fight at the Taj.

(image 1 & 2: AP. image 3: Rajanish Kakade/Associated Press. image 4: Iajanish Kakade/Associated Pressimage 5: Michael Rubenstein for The New York Times image 6: European Pressphoto Agency)

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Michael Shaw
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