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Think about one picture in the most convincing ads you remember. Chances are your mind’s eye is picturing a very powerful image:
Michael Jordan soaring through the air for Nike.
A 911 speeding around a mountain pass for Porsche.
A beautiful sunrise over the beach for Miami.
Compelling photographs have also made powerful political statements:
Think of the airliner flying into the World Trade Tower.
Civil rights marchers locking arms in Selma.
Or one picture of the solitary man who faced down tanks in Tiananmen Square.
Why are pictures so much more memorable than words? Psychology professor Allan Paivio’s Dual-Coding Theory says that pictures allow dual coding while words use single coding. In other words, when you look at one picture you are processing an image code and a verbal code, whereas words alone only offer verbal code.
What’s more, our brains process pictures 60,000 times faster than text. And brain research has shown that 90% of all information sent to the brain is visual. Supporting this, studies on web readership show that webpages with pictures or videos attract almost 94% more views than pages with words alone.
One Picture Is Worth a Thousand Words.
None of this knowledge is new, by the way. For at least 100 years, communicators have been following the adage “One Picture Is Worth a Thousand Words.” They take advantage of our visual nature to create powerful, compelling, convincing visual presentations that make us react.
Based on this, I have some questions:
Why isn’t the media showing pictures of what happens to little bodies when school children are shot with assault rifles and war-grade ammunition?
Why do we only see pictures of flashing police lights, crying parents, and shooting sites decorated with balloons, teddy bears, and bouquets of flowers? Wouldn’t it make more sense to show the truth of what’s actually happening so voters and legislators could make rational decisions about the safety of our children?
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Is the media afraid of losing readers and viewers? Are they afraid of losing advertisers? Shouldn’t they be more afraid of children losing their lives?
Politicians are certainly afraid of losing money and votes. But if their backers and their supporters saw exactly what was happening to the kids who are being slaughtered, if they saw the kinds of pictures they couldn’t unsee, wouldn’t they quickly insist that those legislators finally do something about the carnage?
What Else is One Picture Worth?
When we see one picture of a cold soda or beer poured into a frosty glass, it makes us want to drink it.
When we see one picture of a couple holding hands on the Champs-Elysées, it makes us want to go there.
So, doesn’t it make sense that if we saw one picture of what AR-15s actually do to our precious children’s bodies, it would make us want to stop letting that happen too?
I don’t believe Congress will ever pass meaningful legislation. From the moment this happened I thought it is going to take an EMOTIONAL gut punch to ever really change things. The advertising community is the only group that can change the emotional tenor of the country. Show the pictures!
Sadly I think you’re right, Mary. As much as we call out for change, Congress is hopelessly deadlocked and too many members put their campaign contribution accounts ahead of our children’s lives.
When we hear that it requires DNA to be able to identify and match the victims to their families, it is beyond disgusting. I am heartsick with the horrifying tragedies.
I think this article in the NY Times says a lot: https://www.nytimes.com/2022/06/06/opinion/kim-phuc-vietnam-napalm-girl-photograph.html
The pictures would cause citizens to put unrelenting pressure on our representative to do the right thing and ban the sale of assault rifles and they must ban sale of ammo , since so many assault rifles are already in the hands of the citizenry.
Mondays NY Times had a a front page story entitled “Would Photos of Bodies Cjanges Views”. It was about Noah , a 6 year old , who was killed I n the Sandy Hook and his dad Lenny’s reflection on the publication of photos. It is a gut wrenching heart breaking story. If you want copy let me know .
I remember a few phots that changes politicians in action . There was the iconic photo of the sister carrying her brother who had been shot by South African police in Soweto for protesting , and the photo of the children in Vietnam who were Napalmed running screaming in the desperate need to seek help.
Thanks Bruce for saying what so many are thinking. Sanitizing and filtering dilutes the impact. Yes, the images would be disturbing, and that’s the point. I just saw an alert about another mass shooting today. No other 1st world country has this issue. If Sandy Hook wasn’t enough for something to change, and now Uvalde, the NRA and their deep pockets will sweep this under the rug, again.
Last Sunday, “60 Minutes” ran a story about ballistic demonstrations with an AR-15 shooting through a block of gelatin-like material that “simulates human flesh.” It was blah–no blood, no pieces of flesh flying off, just a block of translucent gelatin that never lost its shape. As I watched I thought what a shame that there is no public image of the destruction of the bodies of children or adult humans. I agree with you, Bruce. Think about how the Nazi concentration camps were perceived to be “work camps” until the GIs showed up with their Brownie cameras. Their photographs exposed the horrific crimes of the Nazi era.
I didn’t see the show, Rosemary, but I have to believe that the “bloodless” example did not emphasize the total destruction that these weapons cause. It’s too easy to turn a blind eye to the kinds of things we’ve been shown — no different from your example where villagers near Nazi concentration camps were able to plead ignorance as well.
Thank you for going there. The gun lobby is so powerful in the US that event the media is afraid to show the truth. We have seen photos of executions and dead innocent civilians in Ukraine. Maybe the truth on as your call it the slaughter of our children would open eyes.
BTW Bruce. You probably know this, but I’ll say it anyway; you are a very good writer / presenter. Your articles are well thought out, appropriately brief, pointed and on point (not always the same thing), easy to read, intelligent, thought provoking. Even when I disagree (which is rarely) or take some exception (which is also fairly rare) you ALWAYS (and I NEVER capitalize) give me food for thought. You always have, and you likely always will. That’s why I became a founding member of your groupie group! Love you, Bruce!
Thank you Thomas. I truly appreciate your kind words.
Bruce, you are right. We live in a society though that does everything to avoid discomfort. The people who can make the changes (Congress) are more interested in protecting the guns than acknowledging the carnage that accompanies that freedom and they don’t want to see “images” of that carnage.
Yes, the public should see images of what is being reported…the effect of an AR 15 on a child’s body, Russia’s barbarism from the levelling of cities like Mariupol to the slaughter, rape and torture of innocent civilians in towns like Bucha. The world should see the horrifying truth of Russian atrocities. Images are levels more truthful than politicians’ bias or reporters’ views
In regard to pictures vs. word…I find watching news reporting is a waste of time, broadcasters politely introducing each other and seeking ‘air-time’ with useless commentary instead of getting to reporting…On can quickly scroll down, read the report and move-on!
Yes, Bruce, you are right, we are very visual beings — (even many blind blind folks are visual — even if they have never actually seen anything).
On the point you make today, about needing to see the children’s bodies, I take very gentle exception. I don’t need the photos of what the weapons do to the children. Just knowing what happens to them and considering what they experienced in their last moments, and what their families, friends, and all of us go through because of this horrific experience makes me want to stop it — yesterday.
I SO agree with you Thomas. I don’t want to see those images either — I don’t even like watching movies that are too violent. But sometimes there are things more important that protecting our gentle sensibilities. After all, the victims of this violence (both the children who are killed and the family and friends they leave behind) don’t have that choice. That’s why they’re called VICTIMS.
Wow, that one hits hard. So very sad but true. Thank you for saying it out loud in print.
Bruce you hit the nail on the head almost all the time. This time you out did yourself. Excellent comparisons. The 2nd amendment referred to single shot front loader muskets, not to AR 15 machine killer machines in the hands of 18 year old kids
Thank you Michael. I can’t imagine what horrors you’ve seen in your medical career.