In Sontag’s first chapter, she introduces her ideas about graphic, gruesome images in modern society and how they contribute to violence and war. Firstly, Sontag emphasizes the difference between the male and female satisfaction in and desire for war. According to Sontag, most men “like war”(Sontag, 3) because there is “some glory, some necessity”(Sontag, 3) associated with war in perpetuating manliness that women do not feel. Then, Sontag transitions into explaining how photographs are an important form of communication as they serve to show images that the “privileged and the merely safe might prefer to ignore”(Sontag, 7). People and governments can use photographs for multiple purposes and can use captions to spin the images in a certain way. Photographs can be used as a “call for peace. A cry for revenge… [or] bemused awareness”(Sontag, 13) of terrible images that can either numb people or empassion people.
Violent images imprint in the brains of observers, thus they are an important tool for preventing or encouraging force.
Continuing her exploration of photography’s impact on human emotion, in Chapter 6 Sontag discusses the apathy that comes with over-saturation of gruesome, horrible images. When there are so many of these images distributed, people often “feel obligated to look”(Sontag, 95) at the disgusting images, yet so few people internalize the photos and ruminate on their impact and importance. Unfortunately, violence is so prominent in society, so there is a large “quantity of images”(Sontag, 102) distributed. This proximity to images of suffering results in a sense of helplessness and a loss of compassion. The repulsive images attract a certain dark side of humanity, exposing that humans are drawn toward distorted images. Maybe people enjoy looking at suffering because it shows a positive contrast between a painful life and the relatively pleasant life they may live. People often ignore the suffering of those close to them because it is difficult to deal with intense pain (Sontag, 99) and compassion is “an unstable emotion”(Sontag, 101). Thus, these impactful images often only result in an “initial spark”(Sontag, 103) instead of a continual desire to help.
The influx of distressing and repugnant images distributed in society leads to an apathetic response in observers.
Chapter 8 focuses on the struggle of remembering versus forgetting horrific images and occurrences. Many disturbing images innately communicate the message: “Don’t forget”(Sontag, 115). However, Sontag emphasizes the importance of thinking about images rather than merely remembering them. Society often associates proper morals with remembering abominable events and forgetting these events as unethical behavior. But simply recalling an image or event does nothing to explore why the event occurred, why it was significant, what can be learned from it, and why it should be remembered. Soley watching an event or seeing an image is different than interpreting and internalizing it. Sometimes, people need to stand “back and think”(Sontag, 118) instead of jumping to conclusions about these images.
Memory of certain events or disturbing pictures is only important and useful if the observer takes the time to investigate the causes and effects of the actual image and uses this newfound knowledge to influence change.