This week has been the one year anniversery of the earthquake in Haiti. As a news junkie, I've been watching the coverage of it on the Lehrer News Hour. Ray Suarez has had a segment every night about the slow recovery from this tragedy.
While no one can deny the horror of this event or the human suffering that resulted, I was reminded of the media coverage of Hurricane Katrina and the incessant presentation of images from that disaster. I began to reflect on Andy Warhol's large repetitive silk-screen images of car wrecks, police dogs in Birmingham, Alabama, firefighters in action and even an electric chair.
Warhol was seems to have been at once intrigued and repulsed by mass media and its incessant repetition of imagery, whether a soup can or a horrible automobile wreck. He understood that any image, commercial or disturbing, if repeated often enough lost its real meaning and became little more than a graphic.
The image of police dogs attacking Black protesters in the South, if presented with enough repetition and frequency, lost all context and became no more emotionally meaningful to the viewer than a grocery shelf filled with Campbell's soup.
In their well-intended efforts to keep us mindful of the ongoing needs of the victims of events like Katrina and Haiti, the media may well be de-sensitizing us to those very needs by the incessant, repetition of images that, as Warhol taught us, can be reduced to meaningless graphics if one is not careful.