Reading The Pictures is dedicated to the analysis of news photos and media images.
February 15, 2016

The Death of Scalia: Skipping the Mourning Process

 A makeshift memorial for Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia is seen at the U.S. Supreme Court, February 14, 2016 in Washington, DC. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia was at a Texas Ranch Saturday morning when he died at the age of 79.

Something wicked this way comes?

Naturally, the death of Justice Scalia has spawned many slideshows ( 1, 2, 3), a standard media ritual following the passing of a prominent public figure. In this case though, the galleries —mostly containing group portraits of the justices or Scalia’s public appearances as a member of the Supreme Court — feel unusually odd. Having seen so many of these memorial collections over the years, why did these feel so immediately quaint?

What I finally realized is that this bonanza of biographical imagery typically accompanies several days of muted reflection. No matter how political or controversial the person, no matter how much a person’s passing might involve a political shift and a consequent scurry, the public and media agenda, up to now, has been largely respectful and biographical — at least, until the person who has passed is officially put in the ground.

It’s astonishing how Scalia’s death on Sunday was immediately overrun by politics. If you’ve been following the news at all, you know Scalia’s passing has set off something between a political riot and an earthquake. Given the paralysis of our already ideologically-crippled political system, some (including these posts from KleinYglesias and Krugman) even fear Scalia’s passing, and the replacement process, could deal a death blow to our system of government.

For that reason, my attention was redirected from the biographical photos to the event itself. Of course, any number of photographers were dispatched to the Supreme Court and the makeshift memorial there. Among the more stock depictions, though, there was something about this photo I couldn’t easily dispense. If it’s mostly innocuous, the context is interesting, starting with the partial, wrinkled edition of the Washington Post suggesting that the death has already been consumed. Dating the event, moving in tight instead of stepping back and framing the justice as a crumpled element among such large and vibrant flowers, however, offers a more uncertain collage. Is it possible, with the vitality of these death stems, the politicized label and the uncharacteristically sad parting gaze of an otherwise jovial firebrand, that the lighted face is just the catalyst and something else is growing wild here?

(photo: Drew Angerer/Getty Images. caption: A makeshift memorial for Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia is seen at the U.S. Supreme Court, February 14, 2016 in Washington, DC. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia was at a Texas Ranch Saturday morning when he died at the age of 79.)

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