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ICONIC PHOTOGRAPHS, PUBLIC CULTURE, AND LIBERAL DEMOCRACY

No Caption Needed is a book and a blog, each dedicated to discussion of the role that photojournalism and other visual practices play in a vital democratic society. No caption needed, but many are provided. . . .

April 12th, 2010

On the Continuing Presence of Davids and Goliaths

Posted by Lucaites in no caption needed

It seems like barely a week goes by that we don’t see a photograph somewhere in the mainstream press of individual Palestinian youth twirling a sling or hurling a stone at an Israeli military patrol, usually somewhere in or around Gaza.  The images have become so regular and ordinary that the biblical irony seems to have lost all resonance.  What was once a potentially poignant comment on a tragic situation has become something of a pitiable commonplace.  And yet the visual trope of the stone thrower persists as a common representation of  political unrest throughout the nonwestern world.

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The most recent examples come from anti-government protests in Thailand and, as above, in Kyrgzystan.  The particular issues at stake don’t usually matter—or at least they are typically not featured or explained—as the point of such photographs seems to be to dramatize the difference between a more or less disorganized group of grassroots protestors—“the people”—and a rationally organized and heavily armed and armored military or riot police. The odds against the success of the protestors under such circumstances is enormous, almost incalculable.  But of course in the West we “know” that when “the people” arise as if with one voice and a common will to challenge the military might of the state with little more than stones and brickbats that a serious challenge to political legitimacy has been tendered.

And therein lies an important moral.

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No matter how rationally organized or far better equipped the military arm of the state might be, and no matter from where it derives its political authority, it cannot succeed without huge costs—or maybe succeed at all—when the will of the people it would fetter and control is enraged.

Photo Credits: Vyacheslav Oseledko/AFP/Getty Images; Ivan Sekretarev/AP

2 Responses to ' On the Continuing Presence of Davids and Goliaths '

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  1. on April 13th, 2010 at 1:07 am

    The problem then is that the rest of the world is not enraged at all. It seems that all our demonstrations are of a reflective nature and we are happily enslaved in our comfort bubble, sad at least.

    ps. Great work on your blog that i recently stumbled across and has become on of my favourites. Your remarks on the iconology of human struggle are both intuitive and highly informative. Thank you.

  2. Dave McLane said,

    on April 14th, 2010 at 12:09 pm

    So great, so horrible. The technology has advanced, the mindset is stuck in Biblical times.

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