July 24, 2016

Pokemon Syria

TOPSHOT - A Syrian gamer uses the Pokemon Go application on his mobile to catch a Pokemon amidst the rubble in the besieged rebel-controlled town of Douma, a flashpoint east of the capital Damascus on July 23, 2016. / AFP PHOTO / Sameer Al-Doumy

I’m been writing for years about the entertainment value of news photography. Inordinately artistic images of suffering or destruction, or decontextualized battle scenes with cinematic flair only push the reality and the circumstances of war further away. That’s why this photo was instantly stunning.

If you’ve been living under a rock, or else far from the madding digital crowd, the app/craze involves an international treasure hunt. Using your phone and its camera like a divining rod, it encouraging you to find Pokemon characters anywhere in the world (well, almost anywhere).

Except in this case, the app’s superficiality does full justice. Embellishing hell on earth with the red circle and the blue bird reminds us that war is not just slideshow fodder, not just news artistry, not just token of futility or background noise. Given how the war in Syria and the  craters, rubble and dust have been rendered practically or literally invisible in the overstimulated west, this novel and unique war photo is magnetic. The gamer, a resident of Douma I take it, might not recognize the irony.  The gamer would likely see the game and the cute blue character as a welcome distraction from the landscape of wreckage. Mindful of any anything that helps the rest of us put a fresh eye on this critical conflict, however, it’s a find.

(photo: @SameerAlDoumy/AFP. caption: SYRIA – A gamer uses Pokemon Go application on mobile to catch a Pokemon amidst rubble in Douma.) 

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Michael Shaw
See other posts by Michael here.

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