This blog keeps to the straight and narrow much of the time, by which I mean we cover photojournalism with the occasional art photo or advertisement thrown in. We don’t range across Flickr, YouTube, MySpace, and the rest of the digital spectrum, much less put up snapshots from our own social networks. But one of the characteristics of media (and not just in the digital age) is that they all flow into one another. So it is that the Chicago Tribune website is inviting people to send in their snapshots of kids who are scared of Santa. And people do:
Cute, huh? Actually, I don’t think so. This photo probably is a good example of how one’s emotional response to images depends on context. The parents can chuckle because they know that this behavior was momentary and aberrant—the kid was fine in a minute and had lots of fun with the Santa myth otherwise.
It’s also a good example of why there should be some distinction between private and public media. Snapshots do many things, and photojournalism does many things, and they often can overlap and at times each do the work of the other. But you don’t have to look at many snaps to be relieved that they are not in the paper every day.
What interests me about these Santa images is that something does happen when they are collected for public viewing. Not one or two, but over a hundred and counting. Images like this:
And that’s more than enough, isn’t it?
The question arises, what does the series of images show that might be overlooked in any one? The answer is, the social form–that is, the custom, and who it serves, and what it costs. The visit to Santa is revealed to be something done not so much for the kids as for the adults. Frankly, the kids would never miss it, don’t need it, and in some cases would be better off without it. And isn’t this a lesson in the tyranny of social forms? A very, very minor example, of course, but an example nonetheless of how people can be pushed into fixed scenarios before they are ready for what social goods might be conferred there. You might say that the visit to Santa is the first step toward middle school.