Belfast Telegraph

Monday 15 September 2014

Are Woolwich watchers failing to see bigger picture?

The image of mother-of-two Ingrid Loyau-Kennett, standing talking to a man with a bloodied knife in his hand
The image of mother-of-two Ingrid Loyau-Kennett, standing talking to a man with a bloodied knife in his hand

After the shock of the Woolwich killing last week gradually began to subside to be replaced by many questions, something else also struck me. It said quite a lot about the times we live in, but I'm not 100% what exactly.

We now have the almost complete narrative of that day. We have the grisly murder, the deranged rant of the suspect and we were also given the redemptive part of the story, the women dubbed the Woolwich Angels, who stared death in the face and tended to the dying soldier.

We know all this in detail unimaginable 10 years ago. Twitter told us what was happening at the same time the official police sources were only confirming that there had been "an incident".

And then the flood of pictures and videos began.

Now, the image of mother-of-two Ingrid Loyau-Kennett, standing talking to a man with a bloodied knife in his hand, has become a symbol, something good we can take away from this tale, because of an inspiring combination of common sense, decency and incredible bravery. That hope has elbowed its way into this darkest of corners is, of course, thanks to a passer-by with a smartphone, who snapped the now-iconic image.

In my opinion, we should be glad that he, or she, did,

But should we also be a little bit disquieted?

Zoom out from the close-crop of that frame and what do we see? While three women selflessly head towards danger, scores of others have taken out their phones and are recording the events as they unfold.

They do not run toward the scene, but neither do they run away. They just keep recording, watching the dreadful events unfold through their viewfinders.

They are voyeurs to an act of infamy little more than 50 feet away from them. Soon, the race to be first to post online will begin; to share the experience, so to speak, and for some, perhaps, to make a little money.

Those writers who years ago were ridiculed for warning that communication advances would alter our behaviour – turn us into techno-zombies – might be forgiven their schadenfreude.

For did not this episode show that such slaves to the screen are we that even foul murder could not divert our gaze, nor force human emotions – any emotions – to kick in?

Certainly Ms Loyau-Kennett herself thought so, railing against those who filmed, but didn't help.

"You shouldn't just be there watching like it's on TV, " she said. "By only watching they are interfering. Do something useful, don't just stand there. Move away." In the past, many Press photographers have been conflicted about taking pictures as infamous events unfold.

But usually they have been surrounded by players on the particular stage, who can more readily alter events.

While, on the one hand, I am glad that we have that Woolwich picture, on the other, I worry.

We have all seen people moronically more content to film beautiful pictures in a gallery, or seminal live music concerts on their phones and iPads, so they can watch what they have missed later on.

Are the Woolwich watchers the grimmer by-product of this, the inevitable result of a desensitised, no-responsibility age, where easy access to blizzards of information and images has made meaning devoid? I hope not.

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