Reading The Pictures is dedicated to the analysis of news photos and media images.
December 16, 2014

ISIS Hysteria Meets War on Christmas: On the Sydney Hostage Siege Screenshot

For sixteen hours, this screen grab from Australian televion was the primary media and social media visual to depict the hostage standoff in Sydney. If you somehow missed the story, a deranged Iranian-born man with a history of violence and sexual assault held workers and citizen hostage downtown until police stormed the shop. The picture was mesmerizing for a number of reasons:

1. It wasn’t an ISIS flag, but who knew the difference? (Certainly not The Daily Telegraph with this completely inaccurate early edition.) As this Reddit thread elaborated, it was a “generic Muslim flag” with the text of the Shahada (proclaiming: “There is no god but God, Muhammad is the messenger of God.”) Call it western ignorance meets the power of terror branding. With the repeated brandishing of the black ISIS flag (with western media outlets, particularly Reuters giving it repeated play), this scene seemed to fit the bill.

2. Call it “ISIS abuse video meets dancing vision of sugar plums,” what we have here — as the alleged ISIS brand collides with the logo and, especially, the holiday greeting of the western confectioner — is a classic rendition of the perennial war on Christmas.

3. You don’t mess with our women. It’s a perverse coincidence of timing that, this week, there was also a buzz in the media about the existence of a completely perverse and sadistic ISIS manual for how to treat (and sexually abuse) captured western female slaves. Gender-wise, the image surely does have a voyeuristic and almost sado-sexual vibe to it. The view through the window featured two women putting their hands to the fabric. In what, in a completely different context, might appear rapturous, the attractive store employee, left, extends forward with her eyes closed, her palm pressed to the glass. More tortured, the slight and simple view of a chin wrinkled clues us that woman on the right is crying as she’s reaching.

Random or accidental as it may be, the piece parts go together in a way that blends the west’s basest instincts with its darkest fears.

(photo/screen grab: Seven Network)

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