What is the meaning of this photograph? I see several young folk, maybe high school or college age, walking along the street. The woman in front is wearing sunglasses, so maybe it is sunny, and she’s carrying what looks like a book and a binder, so maybe she is a student going to class. I see a man in the backgrouind who is smiling at his friend. The woman on the far right, just on the edge of the shot, seems lost in thought. This could be, in black and wight and with dress and hair styles suggesting some antiquity (1950s? 1960s?), a photograph of a bunch of kids who just got off a school bus and are on their way into class.
What do you see in this picture? What if I told you it was a picture of a young woman caught in the act of sneezing? That is pretty believable, she looks like she is about to sneeze. If, on the other hand, I told you that she was shouting out in anger, that would be believable as well. She does look kind of mad.
When we put these two photographs together, we get one of the iconic images of the days of desegregation. The caption that comes with this photo reads: “In this Sept. 4, 1957, file photo, students of Central High School in Little Rock, Ark., including Hazel Bryan, shout insults at Elizabeth Eckford as she calmly walks toward a line of National Guardsmen. The Guardsmen blocked the main entrance and would not let her enter. … (Will Counts/Arkansas Democrat-Gazette via AP, File)”
This is the original photograph:
It is possible that as this young black woman walked to school, at every single moment, there were one or more young white women or men making the perfect face of hatred and disdain right behind her in perfect depth of field for just the right photograph, an idea photograph to depict the sense of outrage, pain, fear, loathing, racism, all that stuff.
But that is not what happened, I’m sure. What happened is that from any given moment, where one might randomly shoot a photograph or grab a few seconds of footage (in those days, film), the story told by the faces, body language, all that, was ambiguous and uninteresting. In order to fully understand what was happening you would have to pay attention, watch for a while, listen, ask a few questions, know about the background and context for what you are seeing, and so on. Or, you can be just the right photographer or videographer, at just the right time with just the right equipment, and get just the right shot, and work with an editor that pulls just the right choice of image.
I have seen video of someone I know standing around at a protest with some guys. It was impossible without knowing what they were talking about, even though you could hear some of the dialog, to get an idea of why they were there, what they are thinking, doing, or saying. The body language was ambiguous. They might have been friends, maybe not, they might have all known each other, this one young woman and these three young men, or they may have all met each other at that time. You simply could not tell what was going on.
What did happen off camera and at a later time but at the same protest, was that one of the three men pulled a pistol out of his pocket and emptied it into the crowd, and ran away. The young woman, prior to that an din the scene I describe above, had suspected that these three guys were a threat to the people at the protest, and was bravely trying to talk them into leaving, going away from the protest. Nobody caught a photograph or bit of video of the guy pulling out the gun, so the event never became that important on the news, though I would have thought that three white supremacists showing up at a #BlackLivesMatter event protesting the police killing of a black man, and emptying a gun in to the crowd (wounding several people, one severely) would have been noticed majorly. Have you heard about it? No, of course not. There was no picture, no film, no screaming, no recorded sound of gunfire. So it didn’t really happen.
The famous young men of the Catholic high school from Kentucky were shown in a very bad light, harassing a Native American guy, making fun of him, taunting him, being jerks. Then, later, a very biased Libertarian fake journalist put out the story that if you look at the whole one hour and 45 minute video, you don’t see that happening. Something very different is happening. Everybody is just fine, just a bunch of people hanging around being diverse and expressing their opinions.
This, of course, led to a combination of reversal of opinion and chastising anyone who seemed to think these boys were doing something wrong. You got the news story wrong, you believed the fake news, it wasn’t like that at all!
But what really happened was something different, which you can see if you watch that long video. There are three (or four) groups doing most of the action, and it is confusing. But among the groups are the boys, many wearing MAGA hats. The MAGA hats tell you something about them, don’t forget that. Don’t assume they are nice boys if they are wearing MAGA hats. They are acting like jerks much of the time, carrying out a bunch of chants, a fake Maori dance, etc. At one point the small Native American group comes in with their drum thingies and chanting. Soon after the boys explode in a series of body gesticulations and chanting to go along with the Native folk’s activity, thoughtlessly miming them, and characterizing them in a way that seems negative. It is pretty obnoxious, but frankly, if you watch the one hour and 45 minute video, the whole thing is more boring than anything else. As all such long, drawn out, slow moving events are, especially on amateur cell phone video.
The shorter video and photographs, taken up close at a particularly up close and personal moment, the images that first spread around the internet, do an excellent job of conveying a sense of hate, racism, mocking, and asshatery. But those images are much like the whole image shown above from desegregation days. They are the idealized, cleaned up, sharpened reality. They are not a made up reality. These boys were being jerks, as originally accused. But when we compare the purified form of presentation to the messier fuzzy reality, in the context of some libertarian dude who wants racism to be normalized, we can be fooled, and many are being fooled, into some sort of “boys must be boys” and “aren’t we all cute and diverse and shit” version of events.
This is what happened, and this is what we should not lose sight of. A Catholic all boy high school in Kentucky appears to have organized a trip, sending dozens of their own students hundreds of miles away to engage in a counter protest of the woman’s march. They were, in essence, emerging versions of those jerks who attack reproductive rights clinics (and if you’ve not been to such a clinic than shut up with your opinion about what that is like, because you don’t know), but transported to DC. They were wearing MAGA hats. And, they were making fun of people different from them. First, some African American dudes (who, for their part, seemed even more out of line) and then this Native American guy and his friends.
Do you know anyone, or of someone, who committed suicide for being bullied? Or anything like that? Someone who tells you they were harassed so much they sought help from a counselor? Someone who experienced so much sexism in the work or school environment it mad them unable to do their work?
Promulgating that these boys were just fine and doing noting really that wrong because it wasn’t just like in those initially available images is a little like saying that person who was bullied to death really wasn’t suffering anything significant. That’s how bullying works. If you look at any real example of bullying, not the ones they show on TV fiction, it is often subtle, sometimes sharp sometimes ambiguous, often fuzzy, often hard to define. The bullying may be coming from people who are often friendly. The bullying is not an idealized perfectly written, directed, and produced moment followed by many other such moments. Bullying in reality is mushy, vague, and soft around the edges most of the time. Yet it is enough to drive someone down in such a deep hole that they don’t want to get out.
It is incumbent on you, dear reader, to NOT only accept as real those realities, or versions of realities, that meet the modern TV standards of good programming. Bad events play out in a very different style. The pro MAGA hat wearing revisionist analysis has taken advantage of this discord between how reality looks when it is happening and how reality is depicted most of the time by most media, including the simple story telling of regular people where at an event. The story that those kid were being jerks was not made up by referencing a biased image. It really happened, but it was initially depicted as a supercharged purified characterization of an image, which is easy to produce any time you have enough footage, enough stills, of one event.
By the way, this is not about the one MAGA hat wearing kid who was standing there apparently smirking. By making this a story about him, it is easier to make this look like a fake news story. This is a story about a field trip worth of MAGA hat wearing Catholic School boys sent to DC to march against women, march against reproductive rights, and while there, to hoot and holler at some Indians, as an extra bonus activity. This is probably not the worst thing they’ve done.
And beyond this, we need, as a culture of people interacting and conversing about important things, to stop acting like a five year old soccer game. The ball is there on the field and a dense gaggle of five year olds crowds the ball. Then, the ball comes popping out of the field and lands a ways away, and the crown runs over and crowds the ball again. We are acting like that with everything. We don’t let a story move around on the field while we watch it to see where it is going, applying only smart and thought out analysis, critiques, and retellings. We are five year olds awed by a soccer ball and having no understanding of what a soccer game is. We need to do better.
are two IS ONE images from the Intertubes that are worthy of note. This first image is almost certainly a picture of a game in which Covington Catholic High played, against a less all-white high school. It is possible that all the Covington students are all sneezing at the same time, and the guy in black-face (black-body, really) actually just happens to be a black guy who has a funny looking condition on his face. This image has been verified by various verifyers, but it is still early to be certain. You can be the judge:
This second image is,
apparently, a tweet by the mother of the young man about which much of this conversation revolves, the smirking MAGA-boy. MAGA Mom says she would have preferred if the genocide of American Indians was complete. In making this comment she plays the victim with her comment “There, I said it, Crucify me.” NEVER MIND this appears to have been a fake image, deleted. I quickly note that the assertions that it is fake are themselves undocumented, so may be it is real, in which case I’ll put the image back.