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Peeping the Iranian Protests

Last night my brother was watching the 6pm broadcast of the CBC (Canadian Broadcast Company) news with his 12 year old son. They showed one of the videos currently sweeping through YouTube that captures the last gruesome moments of life of Neda Agha-Soltan, shot dead by persons unknown while walking the fringes of the protests against Iranian’s repressive pseudo democracy. My brother, who had previously watched the video online, was halfway out of the living room at the time and only partially heard them talking about the video. When he realized they were actually playing it, he ran back in and told his son to cover his eyes. But it was too late – the most graphic part of the video, the final seconds of Neda’s life, ending in a closeup of the 26 year old woman’s face as blood gushes out of her mouth and nose and her eyes roll up into the back of her head — was already playing. Afterwards, his son asked him: “I don’t understand. If she was shot in the chest, why was there blood coming out of her face?”

Last week, the Western media was convinced that Twitter was galvanizing the Iranian people into full scale revolution. This week, the news is that it will be the YouTube video of Neda’s death that will spread outrage and ultimately topple the Islamic regime of Iran. Meanwhile, everyone is putting out articles on how the importance of Twitter and Facebook are being overstated in this burgeoning revolution.

So what to think about all this? Sad to say but Peep plays a role. Whenever we are using mediums that primarily provide entertainment – from television to twitter – to cover fast breaking world events like this one, we are dealing with the problems endemic to Peep.

These problems include: *Veracity – is this a genuine tweet or video? Everything seems true. *Passivity – by watching this and maybe even appending a comment or sending a tweet like “to Neda…we will remember your bravery” are we imagining we are somehow taking meaningful action which actually prevents us from taking meaningful action? Everyone shade their tweets green in support of the Iranian protests. *Context – One person’s outrage is someone else’s entertainment. There is an unsettling blurring between the two. A video of a woman dying sandwiched between commercials for Tide, plus updates on the weather and sports. On YouTube I found a panorama of scenes from the protests culminating with Neda’s death set to U2’s Sunday Bloody Sunday. Appended to the video the pronouncement: “Khodaya be Iran azadi bede NOT A ROCK MUSIC VIDEO. DO NOT VIEW AS SUCH.”


YouTube - Bloodshed in Iran - Neda Agha-Soltan - Sunday Bloody Sunday - U2_1245774313645

Ultimately, we don’t know if the video showing Neda being murdered will prove to be a catalyst, a distraction or equal measures of both. Our instinct is to believe that when images emerge from a crisis of this magnitude with so much at stake we are not peeping. We are not simply spending our leisure time watching other people’s lives. We are absorbing and passing on crucial information. But the more television, YouTube, twitter and Facebook blur into one big infotainment peep universe, the harder it is to figure out when we have crossed the line from crucial information to peep. We have to watch the video of the young woman’s death so that she will not have died in vain. At least, that’s what we keep telling ourselves when we watch it, decide to broadcast it, or pass it along.

I’ll end with a random sample of tweets about Iran I grabbed off the Iran.Twazzup site providing real time amalgamation of tweets related to the Iranian protest.

Iran Unrest - twazzup twitter search_1245775020742

Industry source: all mobile phone providers allow government facility to listen in. UK/US have this also. #neda #iranelection

Show support for democracy in Iran add green ribbon to your Twitter avatar with 1-click - http://helpiranelection.com

Is it just me or is MSNBC not offering as much Iranian coverage as CNN? I usually like MSNBC better.   Hey $300 .00 a day on Twitter. Find out here! http://tweet4.notlong.com Tehran DC metro iran Perez Hilton   Please Do Not Go To Work - Do Not Pay Bills - Do Not Shop Non Necessity - Agenda Economic Standstill #IranElection Tehran Iran Neda   Watching Iranian protesters use cells to document riots makes me ashamd of using mine on pics of my dick


We r having difficulty gettng updates 2 u as many of r contacts been arrested-life here is v/v/dangerous now #Iranelection

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Hal, I would like to think

Hal, I would like to think images like these will prove to be catalysts, but I'm a bit cynical from my work with dishonor killings. Some of those murders have been captured on video, transmitted around the world, and hit the mainstream media. Most people do the "ain't it awful" thing, then change the channel to see who won the baseball game. All this rapid-fire news is shortening our attention spans, giving us compassion fatigue, and leaving us with the false impression that all news stories are of equal (un)importance and weight.

From where I sit, there isn't enough context and analysis. That takes time, money, and effort and is hard to cost justify.