WARNING: what you are about to read may offend and disgust you. It should. I hope it does. Those of a sensitive nature may wish to look away now.
Never mind “Not safe for work”, it was at work that my attention was drawn, at various times, to three of the most distressing images I have ever seen on the internet. And you could say they aren’t safe for anyone.
All have returned to haunt me in the small hours, leaving me wishing I had never seen them.
All, I would suggest, are potentially damaging to young people who might chance upon them. And to me.
All are images of cruelty. In one case, of man’s inhumanity to man; in another, man’s inhumanity to woman; and in the third, young men’s inhumanity to a fellow creature.
This last is actually a video, shot no doubt on the mobile phone of one of the perpetrators. It shows a group of youths, apparently Spanish, surrounding and overpowering a donkey, and finally throwing it off a high bridge.
The animal appears to have survived its ordeal, as it is last seen swimming frantically in the fast-flowing river far below. It is clear throughout the short film, however, that the whole episode filled it with incomprehension and terror.
My gut reaction on first viewing was to wish all the boys involved might be dangled interminably from the same high parapet.
In some ways worse is the grotesque photograph I saw recently of a young woman being hoisted up by ropes tied around her bare breasts.
Who on earth would do this, and why? Why photograph it, and post the picture online?
The disturbing conclusion is that the image was considered by somebody to be pornographic. That the depiction of extreme pain – and no one seeing it could doubt the agony – was expected to induce sexual arousal.
If the woman herself ever consented to what was happening, that consent was surely withdrawn vociferously by the time the picture was taken.
It is an image of pure sadism. Of savage power inflicted by one individual on another.
And the fact that as viewers we are expected to share in that sadism, to enjoy the brutality, is the most appalling thing about it.
As ghastly as the pain, fear and possible long-term damage to the unnamed woman in the photo is the objectification – the de-humanising – of all women. Not just as sex objects, but as objects of gratuitous violence.
These two examples were, for me, even more upsetting than the other, which shows a man’s newly severed head.
Images of decapitation are of course deliberately shocking, and have – rightly – been the subject lately of some controversy.
Part of what makes the other images of cruelty I have described so horrifying is the fact that there has not been any outcry or controversy about them. As if such inhuman human behaviour were condoned, or expected.
Of course, people – mostly male – have been viciously cruel since long before the internet was there to encourage them.
One thinks of the eye-gouging of whole towns during the anti-Cathar crusade in the early 13th century but that’s almost a random example among thousands possible. From the slave trade to the Nazis, the ancient Assyrians to Syria today, you can supply your own.
But there must be at least a suspicion in all the three instances above that the ability to publish the pictures was part of the point.
Though you cannot always be quite certain what you are seeing.
When I first saw the decapitation picture, more than 10 years ago, it was said to show the victim of a war between Colombian drug gangs. Recently it resurfaced, supposedly revealing the depravity of the present Syrian rebels.
Whatever the real horrors of Syria, the use of this picture was propaganda.
Its purpose, when it was taken, was somewhat different. Part bravado, part perhaps to intimidate others.
And there must be a worry that the proliferation of violent images encourages a proliferation of violence. It’s the only way to make sense of some of what passes for American “culture”.
I never watch horror-porn of the saw, chainsaw, serial slasher variety, but two films I have seen on TV recently – and enjoyed – troubled me.
Both “Ironman” and “X-Men Origins: Wolverine” ultimately have an anti-violence “message”. But to get there they show a lot of extreme, highly glamorised violence.
With the victims, as ever in movies since the early days of cowboys ’n Injuns, suitably de-humanised.
There is a popular argument that the glamorising of violence on screen, in video games etc, doesn’t promote real violence.
Those who argue that loudest are mostly those who either make or enjoy violent games and films. They have a vested interest in putting that view across.
The makers of the films and games, though, all make their money, or promote their products, through the use of advertising.
If what you see on screen doesn’t affect what you do in life, how exactly is that advertising supposed to work?