If you wanted to, you’ve seen the pictures of the corpses of Saddam Hussein’s sons by now. They were broadcast on TV and scattered throughout cyberspace last week, usually labeled “warning–graphic photos,” or words to that effect. And they were graphic, I guess…but I can’t say they shocked me. I’ve seen a lot worse (I used to work for the New York Daily News, after all). More to the point, the photos released by the Defense Department were tame compared to what you can see any day of the week by renting any reasonably violent Hollywood film released in the last 30 years or so, going all the way back to 1969 and Sam Peckinpah’s The Wild Bunch. For that matter, you can even view the “sealed” autopsy photos of John F. Kennedy at your leisure, 24/7–they’re scattered throughout cyberspace, too, easily accessible to anyone with a computer and a taste for the macabre, along with all sorts of other nightmare-inducing death-scene photos posted by peculiar folk. (And no, I’m not posting any links.)
It may also be relevant that I once witnessed a shootout in a big-city bank. Granted, I didn’t actually see guns blazing–I was around the corner, a few feet away–but I did stand over the robber seconds after he was shot dead by a security guard. Forgive the cliché, but the whole thing seemed less like real life than a scene from a movie. The sound of the guns going off was far more frightening than the sight of the corpse.
Is my experience commonplace? Have most of us become blind to the pathos of cooling corpses? Did Hollywood do that to us–or was it modernity? I can’t tell you. All I know is that I looked at the pictures of the Hussein boys and didn’t flinch, though I wish I had.