Notes On Attention Paid

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03 Regarding the Pain of Others, Chapter 7, Susan Sontag

… Sontag opens with two ideas…

… imagery preferred by the media direct public attention… the reason one needs to claim the news cycle… the reason 45 was so effective at controlling the narrative, though he did so with tweets, perhaps the snapshots of writing… as visual as pictures?…

… the world is so saturated with images that all imagery has a diminishing effect… it becomes important to note what we linger over in this context, we are offered so much eye candy, which we speed through until attention is arrested… this is what makes an image decisive, it arrests attention… but, not for long…

In the more radical—cynical—spin on this critique, there is nothing to defend: the vast maw of modernity has chewed up reality and spat the whole mess out as images. According to a highly influential analysis, we live in a “society of spectacle.” Each situation has to be turned into a spectacle to be real—that is, interesting—to us. People themselves aspire to become images: celebrities. Reality has abdicated. There are only representations: media.1

… we live in a society of spectacle and we all compete to be the spectacle everyone wants to see… there is no room for an appreciation of the ordinary, unless it is a cute cat, or dog… these are the proxies for our inadequacy as social media stars… we devote pages to our animal celebrities, in lieu of having our own… every day life is boring…

… the most interesting part of Sontag’s critique of media driven image ubiquity is that the news is entertainment for those who live in rich societies with little to fear of the kind of violence found in other parts of the world… something, though, has changed, the compelling imagery no longer comes exclusively from professional journalists, the compelling imagery comes from citizens who always have cameras with them… much is made of the filming of George Floyd’s murder by a teenage girl…


  1. Sontag, Susan. Regarding the Pain of Others (p. 109). Farrar, Straus and Giroux. Kindle Edition. [return]