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The Power of the Image

The image is an intriguing construction. Not only visible, an image can also be produced through sound and touch. We can even close our eyes and create an image that is unique to our imaginations. There are natural images, such as forests or mountains. There are also socially constructed images, which are pretty much anything else.

Religions have a long relationship with images. Christianity is represented by a cross. The crescent moon symbolizes Islam. Jews are recognized through their association with the six pointed Star of David. Even when a group does not directly worship the image itself, the representation gives the image power beyond that of its inherent worth.

Photographs are believed by some native cultures that a piece of the human soul is transferred whenever a picture is taken. The way in which we cry over the image of a loved one during a period of longing or a painful reminder like the holidays makes me wonder if there is not a bit of truth to the superstition. When a relationship ends, many people tear or burn photographs of their ex-loved one. It is as if we believe that harming an image somehow harms the person depicted.

We interact with actors on television or film as if we have some sort of personal relationship with them. We can have no physical contact with the person, but we become emotional when they suffer. There is a connection with celebrities that defies all logic. We feel a sense of joy when our favorite athletes or teams win a championship, and we feel destroyed when they lose.

The written word was created by man and is the least effective form of communication, yet can be used to send news, information, or fire someone. When spoken, words take on another layer of reality. When we are face to face, our words, combined with gestures and vocal inflections, can inspire greatness or strip all hope from others. Words can stir armies to battle or call for retreat and surrender.

A song can make us cry. A film can bring us to fear. An image can be made alive, but only if we choose to give it that power.

When we interact with others, are we not seeking the power of an image through our actions? We wish to present a snapshot of success, intellectualism, or superiority. Our clothes, speech, haircut, hand movements, and topic of conversation are carefully crafted as the best representation of our “self”.

The “real” you may be somewhere inside, but the image is an external representation.

Of course, the “self” is complex. There are layers and layers of context and construction that make up who we are. There is no way that we can present this entire collection of data to another person, so we summarize through the type of music we listen to, or the films we watch. With all of our similarities, how can we possibly be so different?

The differences are details. Like a film genre, there can be great diversity within a group of similar creations. However, it is the overarching similarities that draw us in. One can debate the minutiae, but that never puts anyone at odds with the genre.

Yet this is the opposite of how we interact with one another in the social world. Human beings have been embarrassed, shamed, ostracized, and even killed for small differences when we consider the umbrella genre of humanity.

Images can blur and distort culture. We see exaggerated features put forth by news media, art, and film. We are socialized to believe that someone with a different skin pigmentation, religious belief, or genitalia are somehow less important. We divide based on the details.

As our ability to consume more images increases, this division also increases. The more alike we become, the more we look to our differences in order to separate from each other. As we become more equal, we become less equal.

Images are driving a wedge between us, and we are ignorant of their power. It might be a photograph, a Facebook post, a political speech, or a gathering of like-minded individuals, but the result is the same—division. We ignore the messages for the messengers. We ignore unity for divisiveness. We are further marginalizing ourselves through the quest of eliminating inequality. We no longer celebrate diversity, we microaggress against it.

We micromanage the solutions. We are shrinking our idea of society, and making ourselves small.

We need to change the images. We need new representations. Through wars and rumors of wars, new “civil rights” movements, and major economic shifts, the world is in a period of turmoil. Those who would divide and conquer us seek to remake the world in their image.

They seek perpetual destruction. Their image is one of violence and division. Their image is an evil one.

We need an image that promotes unity. An image of good. Something that truly represents us. An image that is more representative of a genre than differences in details.

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