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Archive for August, 2007

I’m a researcher – or perhaps I should say I’m an information broker – someone who finds and sells information to clients around the world [insert shameless plug here]. It also means that I spend much of my day surfing the Net and trolling through databases of various kinds, together with other online and offline sources and newspapers. The rest of the time I play Warcraft, read blogs and buy things off eBay, but that’s beside the point. What I wanted to talk about was some of the very surprising things I find while surfing around cyberspace, a great deal of it pornographic. The other day, for example, I was searching for something innocuous, like the standard medical treatment for some disgusting disease or other, and although I usually use some highbrow source like the National Library of Medicine for such a search I often drive off the info highway down a side-road and Google it as well – just to be thorough and have a little fun looking at all the wacky advice and info out there – such as can be found on Wikipedia for instance [Oh sit down you at the back – yes I know you love Wikipedia – but did you know the last entry was probably inserted by your addled old granny and has as much authority as my six year old grand-daughter reading the back of her crisps packet hrrrumph]. Anyway, as I was saying before I rudely interrupted myself for a bit of a rant – yes – I was looking for something to do with the treatment of scurvy or some such [don’t ask – but sailors have info needs too you know, and not all of them to do with dalliances with ladies they met in Thailand].
I clicked some innocuous sounding link and before I knew it – rather like rubbing Aladdin’s Lamp – oops wrong metaphor – up popped [stop it] the most improbable [and possibly impossible] images I have ever seen. Come on guys out there – tell me how it is possible for one man – black of course because racial stereotyping is alive and well in the porn industry – to have an – ahem – member [nudge nudge wink wink] thicker than a tree-trunk and twice as long as his leg? I did pity his unfortunate girl-friend – or six actually, all of whom were wearing bright red lipstick, red shoes and nothing else and doing a lot of pouting and mouthing and licking of lips with what I take was meant to simulate orgasmic expressions on their Barbie-Doll faces. The last time I saw a male member [and I’m not talking about the Masons] that size it adorned a Greek pot in art class and belonged to a Satyr who would obviously have had some difficulty running to the Bacchanalia had he jumped down off his rock in a hurry.

The Internet porn industry aside we have always liked to adorn our houses and gardens, not to mention our offices and our cars and just about everything else with phallic symbols – that and the apotropeic eye to ward off evil but now of course we just have CCTV cameras. The Romans used to place bloody great stone replicas of penises around their arenas and outside the door – just in case someone came along and accused them of being weeky weedy wimpies or something. They just couldn’t resist a bit of male posturing in some sort of sublimated territorial display that said – keep off – this is *my* patch –grrr [cut to shot of caveman beating his chest while wifey – clad in fur bikini of course – looks on admiringly]. Today they would just be driving around in Corvettes or some other enormous great expensive car shaped like a torpedo to demonstrate just how big *theirs* is. It doesn’t take much to see what I mean – look around you at that tube of toothpaste, that car, that missile, that jet-fighter, the CN Tower, the Post-office Tower, Cleopatra’s Needle, all those ancient Greek columns, that microphone clutched in the hands of some blond bimbo singer with her red lips so close … need I say more? You don’t have to be an iconographer – let alone a pornographer – to get the symbolism there now do you? Anyway – now I’ve got you thinking I’m going off to go get some lunch – hot dog anyone?

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I’ve been mulling over the question of ‘Privacy’ lately – sparked by a recent media row that caught my attention whereby a Canadian doctor who is a writer as well as a military man wrote an article for the American magazine “Mother Jones” [http://www.motherjones.com] entitled “Talk to me like my father; Front line medicine in Afghanistan“, about his recent tour of duty and the things he experienced while there. There would be nothing remarkable about that – and it was a well-written piece – if he had not described in graphic detail the heroic efforts made to save the life of a Canadian soldier who had apparently been shot accidentally by a tent-mate and died shortly thereafter. Again – nothing remarkable about that – in fact, some would say that it is laudatory that the author brought the harsh reality of life ‘outside the wire’ to the public consciousness. The fatal error on his part however, was that he actually identified the soldier in question by name – thereby , some would say – violating patient-doctor confidentiality, committing a gross invasion of the deceased soldier’s privacy, not to mention the privacy of his grieving family and also cast into question his own ethics both as a writer and a ‘war correspondent’.

 

So the dilemma is now – should the doctor in question be sanctioned or not – and by whom? The Canadian Military? The Medical Board of Canada? Should he be sued by the parents and family for invasion of privacy – breach of confidence – what have you? At the very least, should he be pilloried in the Press for his actions? The other side of the coin is that the doctor/writer was instrumental in recruiting civilian doctors to work with the troops in Afghanistan in the first place. He is also lauded by his literary colleagues and has won various prestigious prizes for his writings. Does that however give him the right to breach the [implied] confidence of his patients? Is a war correspondent exempt from the normal expectations of confidence and ethics? If I was a war correspondent in Iraq for example – do I have carte blanche to describe everything I see in graphic detail as well as identifying the protagonists on either side? The answer appears to be – it depends. When American soldier Jessica Lynch was captured during the Golf War at the Battle of Nasiriyah in 2003 her story spread like a brush fire through all the major newspapers around the world. She was not only identified by name [and in photographs] but her injuries – either real or imagined on the part of the reporters – were documented fully. The identity of the man who informed the Americans of her whereabouts was also fully disclosed with the result that he and his family were subsequently granted asylum in the States for fear of their lives.

 

You young things out there will no doubt have only ‘seen’ the Kennedy assassination through old videos on YouTube but I remember the day’s events fully. It was one of those ‘you remember where you were when’ moments, like the death of Diana or the death of the Big Bopper [gotcha there huh?]. The newsreels played the scenes over and over again – the crowd running, shaky camera angles as the reporters scrambled to get a shot, the indelible image of Jacky Kennedy climbing over the back seat to get at her dying husband, the blood on her otherwise immaculate pink suit as she stood by the president elect as he was urgently sworn in… Now I ask you – was this the grossest invasion of privacy or was it an historical moment and therefore above and beyond the normal mores of society? Because the central character was a Head of State were the newspapers absolutely duty bound to show us, the reading public, those images over and over again without cease for days on end? And what about the death of Diana? A British television documentary program has just aired several hours footage dealing with this very subject – a documentary that has outraged her sons and her family because it purportedly shows images of her dying moments while she was still in the car in the Paris tunnel. Has this so far exceeded the bounds of propriety that it should never have been shown?  Or is it just that we have the right to know everything when it comes to a head of state and/or a celebrity because this is part of the historical record, but the same does not apply in the case of  an ‘everyday’ citizen?  If this is is true then what about all the stuff plastered around the news about Jessica Lynch?  She was an ordinary citizen wasn’t she?  Or was she different because she was a soldier – or a female – or just a handy propaganda tool …

 

If we had had newspaper reporters and video cameras when Mary Queen of Scots or Anne Boleyn went to the block, or a few aristos in France met their maker would we have all sat around watching it live on News at 10 or reading about it in the ‘The Daily Distress’ instead of standing outside with the unruly scrum knitting and jeering? Has the world gone mad? Are we so insatiable for gore and voyeuristic detail that we take positive pleasure in the suffering of others – there’s that old Schadenfreude raising its ugly head again – or are we justly entitled to be well-informed of all the world’s events – ugly and distressing as they may be? And of course if some people are hurt along the way – such as the heart-broken and grieving family when their son’s death is raked over the coals once again – well that’s just too bad in the larger scheme of things. We the public have a right to know!

 

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