Something used extensively in this piece, and in a lot of dog attack stories, are gory photos. Photos of victims’ wounds, of blood, of stitches. Is this imagery really necessary to tell their story, or are we being manipulated?
“No passion so effectually robs the mind of all its powers of acting and reasoning as fear.” – Edmund Burke
Breed specific legislation is a fear-based and emotion-based response to a complex social problem. For BSL advocates, it is their most powerful argument. It’s hard to look at a photo of an injured child and not empathize with a mother who says, “We can’t let this happen again.” She’s right. But the most immediate or dramatic answer is not the correct one.
We need to move beyond our emotional response to look at facts and do what is truly best for our community. That should be the role of law makers, but unfortunately they are humans also swayed by fears; and politicians that bank on opinions, trends, and fads.
Fear has been used for centuries in the media to motivate the masses. Fear-based stories and imagery have two goals:
1) to grab your attention
2) to justify or offer a solution to your fears.
To reach these goals they use “…dramatic anecdotes in place of scientific evidence, promoting isolated trends, depicting categories of people as dangerous and replacing optimism with fatalistic thinking”.
Sometimes the victims cooperate with these tactics. They are traumatized and seek an explanation. Banning a category of dog can seem like the easiest answer, especially if the pro-BSL groups reach out to them in a time of grief, as they are known to do. Many times the victims are *not* complicit in the way these stories are told, and injury or attack photos are used without their consent.
A reporter might argue that these photos are necessary to tell a story. We maintain that they are not. If we are reading about car safety, we don’t need to see photos of stitches and wounds from car accidents, or pools of blood on the ground to understand that lives are at stake.
Do they create empathy for the victim? For most well-balanced people, reading about an injured child and hearing from those impacted should be enough to feel compassion. Photos of stitches and blood trails don’t do that. They trigger the fear and disgust switches in your brain. Your adrenaline rises and logic is held hostage, priming you to believe that your fear is rational and the threat is immediate. Once you are in this state, it’s easy to convince you that they have an easy solution to this fear.
It’s been suggested to us that we could counter this tactic simply by showing injuries caused by other breed of dog. There are plenty of photos we could use if we wanted to fight fear with fear, but we’re not interested in that. It might take more work and more faith in people, but we won’t sink to their tactics.
When you see media using this kind of shock imagery, name it. Expose it. Not just in dog bite reporting, but when it comes to any topic. Once you start looking for it you may be surprised how often you see it.
*Serani, D. (2008). If It Bleeds, It Leads: The Clinical Implications of Fear-Based Programming in News Media. Psychoanalysis & Psychotherapy , 24 (4), 240-250.