A Journal of Rhetoric, Writing, and Culture

6.2: The Possibility and Actuality of Image Events

The Possibility and Actuality of Image Events:  Framing Image Events in the Press and on the Internet

Galia Yanoshevsky, University of Bar-Ilan, Israel

Enculturation 6.2 (2009): http://enculturation.net/6.2/yanoshevsky

Image events are a subcategory of visual arguments.  More specifically, John Delicath and Kevin Deluca have defined image events as "staged acts of protest designed for media dissemination" (315) that offer a powerful way to appeal to audiences. That is, image events provide "fragments of arguments" that break away from established order, in opposition to common or conventional logic.  They foster public discussion by offering fresh, new ways to look at issues at hand by supplying new claims and refutations that fuel debates in the public sphere.

If the impact of image event on public argumentation depends, as Delicath and Deluca claim, "on how the audience encounters, assembles, and utilizes the fragments" (328), then we need to account for the ways in which image events become arguments when disseminated in the media. Rather than speaking of the potentiality of image events, we need to explore how image events function in actuality.  We should study the way image events operate once they are integrated in the press and how they interact with other texts or images to foster debate.

In line with theories on the rhetorical relationships established once "image meets text," I claim that a reading of the image event cannot be accomplished without studying the way it interacts with other components it encounterstext or imageonce it is released into various media and integrated into ensembles of argumentation, where it acts as claim, warrant, or data (Delicath and Deluca 328).  Even Anthony Blair, when considering the argument an image conveys, admits that most visual arguments are combinations of the verbal and the visual (“The Rhetoric of Visual Arguments” 50).

Scholars like Roland Barthes, W.J.T. Mitchell, Ayelet Kohn, and others have taken to treat units of image/text. They have signaled out the rhetorical relations created by such complexes. For Barthes, the two symbolic systems, the visual and the linguistic, though not identical are closely related and exert influence one upon the other. Though the image conveys more than there is in words, words still limit the interpretation of what can be found in the image by directing our attention and analysis. According to Mitchell in Picture Theory, the rapport text/image is important because the text often enables the image. He suggests that between text and image we find associations based on power. We should therefore ask whether a text is dominant or dominated by a picture, whether the picture is invasive or invaded, dependent or independent, whether it is subversive and calls the text into question (186).  Other scholars identify a rich and complex set of potential relationships between text and image, such as analogy, opposition, completion, influence, adoption, and synthesis (Kohn 168; Adam and Bonhomme 217). Instead of considering whether an image is translatable to a set of propositions leading to a conclusion, we should try and find out what kind of function it plays within the complex of text/image. As Mitchell puts it in Iconology,

The boundary line between text and images, pictures and paragraphs, is drawn by a history of practical differences in the use of different sorts of symbolic marks, not by a metaphysical divide. And the differences that give rise to meaning within a symbol system are similarly dictated by use; we need to ask of a medium, not what “message” it dictates by virtue of its essential character, but what sort of functional features it employs in a particular context.  (69, emphasis added) 

We thus revisit theories on the image/text compound because image events are never a "degree zero" of "showing:" they are always connected to and conditioned by "telling." In other words, the power of image events to convey messages is subordinate to a context: image events, once emitted into the world, are integrated within argumentative schemata as they become part of articles and as they give birth to other images or to verbal accounts of their meaning.

In what follows, I study the political image event's destiny once it is released into the public sphere and disseminated in the written press and the on the Internet. To that effect, I examine three case studiestwo extracted from Israeli papers, one on the Internetall revolving around the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The first concerns the disseminated photograph of an objector to the Israeli government's 2004 disengagement plan from the occupied territories. The second consists of an invented image event that was posted on Ha'aretz daily's front page and the caricature it inspired the next day. The third example pertains to the death of the American student, Rachel Corrie, while protesting in the Gaza strip, and to subsequent reactions to her death on the internet and elsewhere. 

I show that the picture of image events, in actuality, is more complex than the one depicted by Delicath and Deluca. As it is shown in all three cases, an image events' meaning is determined by framing and contextualizing. Secondly, the cases studied reveal that image events need not be authentic or original to produce an effect; they may be either invented or stereotypical. In regard to image events, stereotypes are models or archetypes of protest that we carry within us; one understands a blocking of a bulldozer with a megaphone in hand to be an image event precisely because one has seen before a person blocking a tank. To grasp image events by way of stereotypes is to account for their weaknesses as well as their strengths.  A stereotypical image is recognized as protest, but it may call upon the production of nothing but battered arguments, conventionally raised in a given issue. On the other hand, the capacity of stereotypes to attract the reader's attention may help provoke criticism (Amossy). This may be viewed as the task of image events: to criticize existing opinions and to produce alternative arguments.

Finally, image events give rise to various sorts of reactions, some of which exceed what we may dub as strictly persuasive discourse. An image event can trigger symbolic acts, such as the publication of an obituary, and may lead to creative moves such as producing movies and plays. This highlights the idea that arguments can be conveyed via types of discourse that are not explicitly persuasive (Amossy). Such reactions may give the reader or the spectator a fresh perspective on the issue at hand without actually appealing to formal schemata of argumentation. 

To sum up, the aftermath of image events may help us examine some of Delicath and Deluca's presumptions on image events' force as confrontational sources:  their capacity to "block enthymemes," to challenge hegemonic interpretation, to bring in a heteroglossy of meanings, to "crack open the door to new modes of thinking," and to provide argumentative fragments for deliberation and argumentation.


Framing an Image Event: The Case of the Shouting Soldier

During June 2005, several Israeli Army Units were ordered to demolish an illegal Jewish outpost in the Gaza strip under Prime Minister Sharon's disengagement plan from the occupied territories. The operation was met by the objection of Jewish settlers in the territories. Fear and rumors had spread that soon others soldiers will refuse to obey orders. This challenge was met by Private Avi Bieber, who on June 21,2005, stood in front of the demolished outpost and shouted in front of the cameras "A Jew does not expel a Jew!"

His picture was captured on camera then immortalized in the front page. It was treated by the papers as an image event:

Bieber’s refusal, the first of a serving conscript soldier in the pre-disengagement period, was caught on television cameras. He was televised around the world in a distressed state, and shouting “A Jew does not expel another Jew.” ("Refusnik Bieber")

The following day, his image appeared in all leading Israeli newspapers. It immediately became an icon, a symbol of disobedience:

Ronen Zevulon, a Reuter's photographer, is complimented by his colleagueshe was behind one image that is already etched in the collective memory: the agitated face of Avi Bieber, the first soldier who refused to obey orders, which starred on the front pages of newspapers all over the world.  (Balint, 5 July 2005)

Image events give way to discussion of values that lead to a particular act of protest. Indeed, Bieber's argument exceeds his singular refusal to obey the orders to demolish the houses in the settlement. Beyond the specific refusal, it questions the Israeli government's policy on territorial occupation and the way to put an end to the Israeli Palestinian conflict. It also hinges upon wider and more general issues, as Private Bieber's act of protest breaks away from conventional obedience to the law in democratic society and to orders in the military sphere. It questions the need and obligation to obey orders and majority decisions that interfere with one's conscience.

However, my claim is that once the image event is framed, the initial status of the argumentative fragments conveyed by the visual is altered; the fragment is now subordinated to a new set of claims delivered by the paper in which it appears. Once integrated in the printed media, Bieber's claim is altered and delimited by its context. A contrastive examination of the shouting event depicted in two different papers may help shed light on this claim.

On June 22, 2005, the headlines of Ha’aretz and Ma’ariv provide the shouting Private Bieber's photo.

Ma'ariv, June 27, 2005



Ha'aretz, June 27, 2005

Interestingly, the image is diffused in a different manner in each case.  At first glance, the pictures reveal variations in framing. While Ma’ariv's image covers the entire page, Ha’aretz’s photograph occupies only a small, albeit central, portion of the front page layout. In Ma’ariv the picture is the article, with a headline stating: "50 days to disengagement; the first objector: a soldier in the engineering unit, and a caption decrying in red “This is only the beginning”. Ha’aretz's picture accompanies the text as though it were an illustration of the text.  Let us then analyze how this particular image event is utilized to support different claims in the two papers. 

As it is fixed on Ma'ariv's front page, the paper acquires its full iconic value. In the sense attributed to it by Mitchell (56), it represents its object mainly by its similarity to others. The soldier in the picture symbolizes other objectors. The iconic value of the shouting soldier's fully blown photograph is confirmed by the accompanying linguistic signs (headline and caption). The combination of the headline (first objector within the army units, to the carrying out of the disengagement plan) alongside the caption ("This is only the beginning") makes an argument by induction. If we try to reconstruct it according to Toulmin's argumentative schema, then we get something of the following order:  Bieber objected the disengagement plan (Data). His action is not singular, on the basis that it provides an example of/for others (Warrant). Therefore, many more refusals will follow suit (Conclusion). The suggestive caption and headlines convert the original meaning of the image event (protest against the disengagement plan) by producing a new enthymeme.

As it is cast in stills, the event is used in support of a different claim than the one initiated by Bieber's action. Whereas the soldier's act can be interpreted as a defiance of the existing order, the paper issues an implicit warning against the ravages of disobedience. Bieber offers refusal and objection. The staged photograph with the caption "this is only the introduction" can be interpreted as a warning against further refusals if the disengagement plan is carried out. It thus offers a new enthymeme for the reconstruction of the reading audience: carrying out the disengagement plan may prove to be hazardous to the nation's democracy as public disobedience may spread.

Let us now turn to the second paper's framing of the photograph. The primary function of Ha’aretz’s picture is to provide an illustration for the article whose headlines speak of the soldier’s refusal. The image event thus seems to be reduced into a mere illustration, where the photo is subordinated to the text, as Barthes would say, "The text burdens the image, loads it with a culture, a morality, an imagination" (Barthes 14-16).

However, a second level reading of Ha’aretz shows that the photo in not merely illustrative; it also provides an argument of its own. A closer look at the picture's left-hand side reveals behind the shouting soldier, a microphone, and a person carrying a video camera. This framing provides an additional argument that transcends the information given in the article itself; it captures the self-consciousness of the photographer who seems to grasp the potential of the event. Staged this way, the photograph thus conveys an argument concerning the nature and the power of media dissemination. It implicitly argues that the event becomes one because it is being filmed and photographed. Hence the media has the power to create events. Far from the political message conveyed by the shouting soldier at the moment of his action (disobedience to a majority decision and to military orders that do not conform with one's conscience), the picture turns to a discussion on the means used to transmit the message by implying something about the competence of the media to create an event. The presence of cameras in the field made it possible not only for the soldier to be on air but for the materialization of the event altogether. Once the cameras caught the eye of the soldier, he acted so he could be filmed and heard.

The original staged image event is thus partially disarmed of its original content. It is weakened by the usage that is made of it a posteriori and by the alternative messages that may spring from it. It is weakened because it shifts attention from political (dis)content to the instruments of transmission. Rather than serving to block enthymemes and advancing alternatives concerning the disengagement plan, and democracy, it becomes a meta-discussion on the power of the media.

Despite differences in framing the event, both examples (Ha'aretz and Ma'ariv) render clear that once the image event is included in the paper, it is constrained by its context. Thus, secondary messages may function to alter the original claim advanced by he who stages the protest.


Image "Invents," Cliché, and Intertexuality: The Case of the Female Bomber

Delicath and Deluca's definition of image events pertains to protest staged by the agent of protest, that is, the person whose action is filmed and televised. This is, however, a restrictive definition: it does not take account of argumentative fragments that provide oppositional claims in the form of simulated images events produced and provided by the media. In the following section, I will argue that such cases could and should be included in a wider definition of image events, precisely because they provide fodder for counter arguments against a prevailing ideology. In the following section, I will show how a daily can simulate an image event in order to make an argument that breaks with current ideology. It will also be demonstrate how the interpretation of the image event in the form of caricature extends the debate prompted by the photos. 

On June 20, 2005, a 21 years old Palestinian girl, Waffa El-Bas, was stopped in Erez checkpoint. She was carrying explosives, on her way to blow herself up at a Hospital in a southern city in Israel. As she arrived at the check post, the girl raised the security personnel's suspicion. She was taken to an isolated room, requested to present an I.D. and to remove her pants. She was filmed on security cameras, where she is first seen claiming that she carries no arms, then trying (but failing) to blow herself up.

The next day, Ha'aretz publishes a selection of 4 monitor stills. [2] Waffa El-Bas is seen, from right to left (as indicated by the subtitle of the photos), first clad in a long coat, then in the three following photos, in a white T-shirt and pants, handling something in her pants, then posing in distress. The pictures are subtitled by a caption: "From right to left:  “the terrorist Waffa Il-Bas, undressing, exposing her “explosive underwear” (Sic.), trying to set off the explosiveand fails, yesterday, in a secluded zone at Erez checkpoint”.




Waffa El-Bas's monitor pictures do not correspond with the restrictive definition of image events, as the Palestinian girl was clearly unaware of her filming. Though the pictures depict an event, the event itself was never meant to be an image event. Nevertheless, the pictures function as image events because they foster debate by contradicting the claims provided by the text which they supposedly portray.

In what way do the pictures operate as image events? What claims do they raise? In order to grasp their function, we must begin by questioning their rapport to the article of which they are a part. Just as the image demands a spatial reading, so does the layout of the article. Kress and van Leeuwen (186-219) have suggested a multi-modal theory of reading the newspaper’s front page, where different parts of the single article and of different articles on the page interact with one other to create meaning.

 The article itself is a much larger account on the way the Israeli Army and government intend to handle the new wave of uprising and terrorist attacks in the State of Israel and within the occupied territories. The headlines of the article read:

[Principal headline] The IDF [Israeli Defense Force] will increase its activity against the Jihad; Sharon will request calm from Abu-Mazen during the disengagement period

[Secondary headline] An Israeli killed in a shooting incident in Samaria; a [female] suicide bomber was caught on her way to carry out an attempt in Soroka [hospital]

The photo sequence then is a part of an assembly of news concerning the difficulty encountered in maintaining the "calm" and the "cease fire" between the State of Israel and the Palestinian Authority (another part of the article is concerned with the Intelligence Unit's efforts to provide information on future terrorist attacks). The impression one gets from the headlines is one of a continuous struggle for the safety of Israelis in the face of threats from the neighboring Authority.

The first argument the pictorial sequence seems to provide is authenticity. Though they are carefully crafted, the monitor photos give a sense of realism, albeit in a highly structured or filtered way (Blair 51). The sequence of monitor stills mimics reality by way of producing "real evidence," i.e., not some staged photos, but spontaneous and documentary material.  

If we think in terms of Blair’s argument in 2004, we may say that these visuals have an evocative power and a narrative capacity because they seem to tell a story.  "Reading" the images requires a reconstruction of the "plot" by the reader, who may be drawn to invent scenarios to explain the distress of the woman in the picture (Why is she undressing? Why is her face and body in pain?). The last two photos in particular may trigger an emotional response to the suffering woman in the picture.

The alleged emotions seem to be in stark opposition to the sentiment of anger (more citizens are being killed each day) or exasperation (the government and the army are helpless in face of such acts of terrorism) that may be aroused by the information conveyed in the article and by the photos' caption. The woman in the picture is not just any woman, the caption reads, but “the terrorist Waffa El-Bas, undressing, exposing her “explosive underwear” (sic.), trying to set off the explosiveand fails, yesterday, in a secluded zone at Erez checkpoint.”

 The reader who then studies the article learns about a female terrorist who burst into tears after a failed attempt to blow herself up at one of the Gaza checkpoints on her way to explode at a hospital where she had been treated a year and a half earlier for severe burns all over her body, which were caused by a domestic accident. The mixture of empathy and disdain provided by the contradicting claims set forth by the headlines and caption on the one hand, and by the photos on the other, is now confirmed by the content of the article: the girl's action (attempt to explode) was triggered by personal distress.

We now return to the question posed earlier: In what way do the pictures operate as image events? The photo sequence is not an image event in the original sense, but it pretends to be one. The pictures act as image events because they advance an alternative to the common interpretation of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The paper stages an image event because of the resistance it offers to the dogma on terrorists. They are not evil monsters, but human beings with sad stories and personal motives behind their actions.

The contradictive force of the monitor series does not stem from an internal reading of the picture. Nor does it depend on a first level reading of the image/text compound. Rather, it resides on a meta-discursive level and concerns Ha’aretz's policy: the paper that brags about being “the paper of people who think” [4] supplies the reader with a complex image; not one that directly illustrates the headlines but one providing a critical reading of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict.  It is a picture where the divide between good and evil, between the personal and the national, becomes fuzzy. The staged sequence subverts the univocal reading of the conflict; it does not only take place on a strategic level (between governments and armies), nor is it only a fight between good and bad persons, but it entails many complex and subjective situations, where an individual fate, not a national destiny, is at stake.

The monitor pictures are an image event because they offer a way for the newspaper to "say" or "show" something more by resisting the usual interpretation of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. They participate in the argumentative sequence, by way of widening the possibilities for debate as Delicath and Deluca would put it:  by “offering unstated propositions and advancing indirect and incomplete claims in ways that function to block enthymemes and advance alternatives” (315). In terms of its argumentative force, the image functions simultaneously as a warrant and as a rebuttal, supporting and negating at the same time the action of the government and the army and provoking both disdain and empathy towards the suicide bomber's action. The narrative sequence of the suicide bomber’s photo thus functions as a counter-argument to the perceived doxa that views suicide bombers as purely wicked persons. Thus, instead of suggesting a single and clear cut view of the conflict, where evil is represented by the Palestinian suicide bomber, the monitor pictures widen the possibility for debate by offering an indirect claim that the suicide bomber is a victim herself.

The staged image event of the suicide bomber triggers a wider debate over the question of female terrorists. Ha'aretz of June 22, 2005 publishes a caricature of four belly dancers clad in an explosive belt and a veil. The compositional aspect of the caricature (4 half-clad Arab women, who may be one and the same woman in different postures of belly dancing) leaves no place for doubt as to its source; yesterday's news is followed up by another claim, albeit a sketched one: a caricature.

Ha'aretz, June 22, 2005, Biderman, artist

(Used with permission of the artist)

The caricature itself is a cliché. It is a stereotypical representation of the Arab femaleboth a belly dancer and a traditional woman (wearing a scarf). The cliché, as noted by Amossy, is a "threadbare figure the may help direct the reading; it shapes the receiver's attitude towards the text it belongs to, as well as towards the social discourse it exemplifies" ("The Cliché in the Reading Process" 34).  The power of the cliché lies in its capacity to be identified by the reader and to call to a critical analysis of the object at hand:

Whether it is taken in passively or consciously perceived as a sign of extreme triteness, a cliché activates the reading process on the most varied level. Its quality of déjà-vu enables it to regulate the interaction between the text and the reader. It plays an important part not only in an immediate deciphering but also in reading operations such as the construction of representational illusion, emotional and/or intellectual identification, and critical reflection.

The "critically perceived cliché" engages intertextual operations:

An intentionally obvious cliché reminds the reader of the pre-existent discourse from which it was taken. As the sign of widely shared, anonymous speech, it indicates, in the text, either an earlier literary discourse or a generalized social discourse. . . . Thus it is the site of an active intertextuality calling for recognition of the model and close attention to its handling when introduced into a new context.  (Amossy 36-7)

We realize the caricature is related to the previous day's monitor photos. In order to decipher what it means, we appeal to the critical capacity of the cliché: we must look at the irregularities of the cliché, at the places where it exceeds the stereotype of the object in question. The stereotypical Arab woman is either traditional (in the caricature, it is represented by the scarf) or seductive (a belly dancer).  We notice that in the caricature, a third highly irregular element is added to the stereotypical representation of the Arab woman: an explosive belt. This element is obviously borrowed from the information conveyed by the previous day's event. The intertextuality with the monitor sequence advances a new argument. The reference to the monitor story provides an opportunity for the cartoonist to call our attention to a stereotypical fear of terrorists: the "average" suicide bomber is an Arab looking male. The explosive belt turns attention to the possibility that women may also prove to be a threat. [5]  Stereotypes, as we see here, are not only banal, trite figures used to facilitate our reading of the event, but also a tool to produce a critical reading of the event (Amossy).

But the relationship between the caricature and the monitor sequence is also reciprocal. We read the caricature in light of the photos, but a critical reading of the rapport requires that the photo sequence be examined in light of the caricature as well. This examination yields a warning against stereotypical conceptions of the Other in conflict, that are doubly dangerous. First, since we cannot recognize danger once it is there (the caricature points out to the fact that women may be active participants in terrorism). Secondly, a critical outlook on the monitor sequence, through the eyes of the caricature, helps us understand that not everything is as we perceive it: the dangerous female suicide bomber is but a poor girl with personal difficulties. Curiously enough, the cliché of the caricature directs us against a stereotypical reading of the Israeli Palestinian conflict. To conclude then, the inventional power of the image event lies in its capacity to resuscitate a trite figure that in its turn calls upon a critical discussion of the battered figures of the conflict by generating new arguments and by producing refined ideas on the issue at hand.


The Rachel Corrie Story: The Fragmentation of an Image Event and the Lure of Public Discussion

Delicath and Deluca suggest that Image events are an argumentative form characterized by fragmentation (322, emphasis added).  Image events communicate not arguments, but argumentative fragments in the form of unstated propositions, indirect and incomplete claims, visual refutation, and implied alternatives.  

My purpose here is to understand "fragmentation" in a slightly different manner. It is not only about "unstated propositions, indirect and incomplete claims, and implied alternatives," but it concerns the propagation of images and claims that duplicate the original event, without actually setting forth new claims. I seek to show that by multiplying the original image event, these new images, events, and image events create a sense of "public discussion," but do not invite new insights, and in Delicath and Deluca's terms, do not provide "fodder for public debate."  In lieu of generating original claims and new ways to consider the issue at hand, they provide at best trite, beaten-up arguments, by clinging on to known opinions and common attitudes.  In addition, once the image events are framed within a series of words and images, their meaning is restricted to what is permitted by the context. Only when they are conveyed within types of discourse that are not explicitly persuasive, do they allow for a "regeneration" of opinions.

In this section, I attempt to show how the iconic figure of Rachel Corrie yields a host of argumentative fragments, in what seems to be a fruitful public discussion over issues of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the means and meaning of protest, but turns out to be a chronic repetition of battered arguments.

On March 16, 2003, Rachel Corrie, an American student and a member of the International Solidarity Movement, was run over and killed by an Israeli military bulldozer in Rafah as she was protesting against the demolition of houses in the Gaza strip. Her picture, facing a bulldozer with a megaphone, was diffused in the media around the world. Soon thereafter, her name became synonymous with peace protest, as images and description of her actions prior to her decease were diffused on the internet, including a photo of Corrie burning a primitively drawn American flag. Her story also generated demonstrative acts by others (cf. image of protesters lying in front of a bulldozer), an article on Wikipedia and more that 800,000 references on the Internet, as well as a play and a movie.

The verbal account of what had actually led to Rachel Corrie's death remains ambiguous. Despite the presence of eye witnesses, there is no one single version of what had actually occurred in the minutes that had led to her crushing by the bulldozer and to her subsequent death on the hospital bed. Hypotheses range from an accidental killing to intentional murder. The diverse accounts are held respectively by those who support the action of the State of Israel in the territories, and those who oppose it, those who reject the actions of protesters in the territories, deeming them as acts of stupidity, and those who favor them, and view them as singular acts of heroism.

Corrie's gesture, facing the bulldozer, and her subsequent tragic, death gave way then to multiple versions of the incident. The various attitudes for or against her act seem to be tacked on to larger issues such as the Israeli Palestinian conflict, the occupation of territories, as well as the stakes of political protest. But do these versions provide new arguments? I would like to demonstrate here how they perpetuate existing opinions, and instead of providing new ways for reflecting on old issues, they function to block thought and creative solutions, rather than to "block enthymemes" of common opinion.

To begin with, Rachel Corrie's act draws upon a stereotypical form of protest, namely a person blocking a machine with her body. Her image feeds on "Tank Man" or the "Unknown Rebel," the anonymous man who became internationally famous when he was filmed and photographed standing before a line of seventeen or more tanks during the Tiananmen Square protests in 1989 in the People's Republic of China.  That iconic photograph was taken by Jeff Widener, a member of the Associated Press. The still and motion photography of the man standing alone before a line of tanks reached international audiences practically overnight. It headlined hundreds of major newspapers and news magazines and was the lead story on countless news broadcasts around the world. In April 1998, the U.S. magazine TIME included the "Unknown Rebel" in its list of the 100 most influential people of the 20th century. 

Here, one may question the efficacy of second-hand images to deliver criticism: on the one hand, they reproduce the heroic act of a person stopping a machine single handedly; on the other hand, they turn defiance into a repetitive act, one that can only generate arguments that have been heard once before. The critical force of the image act is crippled precisely because the cliché it imitates stands in opposition to the singular, fresh-minded act required to invent new arguments.

Corrie's act of protest and her subsequent death led to an archive quest for older images where she is seen burning the American flag. This image itself is somewhat cliché as it (re)presents the act of flag burning. The two images pieced together present Corrie as a protester and implicitly raise arguments for and against anti-governmental political protest and peace activism. However, the advanced claims do not exceed typical axiological appreciations. They situate Corrie with the enemies of her native country, by claiming that burning the flag of your country is morally bad, and he who burns the flag of his native country is a bad citizen. One of the opponents of Corrie's action wonders in an internet article: "Who is Rachel Corrie?  Is she a Peace Activist?  Then why is she burning a mock US Flag?" (Levitan). These stock images of flag burning and tank blocking provide stock arguments for public debate, where no fresh outlook on peace activism is supplied.

They are coupled by the use of amalgam: the author of the same article claims that the Corrie story is part of a series of staged image events by the Palestinian authority, designed to create hostile public opinion towards the state of Israel:

The Palestinians have a long history of faking deaths, such as the false claims of a massacre of thousands at Jenin, when the death toll was wildly exaggerated. . . . Dejavu (sic.) of the following falsifications and misreporting: of Mohamed al Dura (could never have been shot from Israeli positionsballistics geometry, never buried still believed to be alive, collaboration of the French,) the infamous Tuvia Grossman case where a policemen protecting a Jew from being beaten by PA thugs is portrayed and attacking defenceless (sic.) Palestinians. (Levitan)

The analogy between Corrie's act to instances of "fabricated images" (whether it is true or not) wears off the argumentative force of Rachel Corrie's initial image. Instead of advancing new claims, it is now subordinated to a set of mutual blames, where each side of the divide (Israeli and Palestinian; Americans who side with Corrie's action and those who oppose it) is entrenched in his own arguments while refusing to accept other versions.

The blocking of new claims is pressed forward by a series of photos on the Web depicting the "before and after" of Corrie's decease. Three such series produce varying sequences of Corrie's photos standing before the bulldozer, then lying on the ground, and finally on her hospital bed (Levitan; Carlos; Parry and El Fassed). By producing more or less the same photographic sequences with verbal explanations, they provide contradicting versions to the circumstances of her death. Whereas Parry and El-Fassed decry the intentional killing of Corrie, Levitan and Carlos denounce the hoax and misinformation by anti-Israeli bodies and by other protesters.

Contrary to what may be said by the image event theory about the power of image events to "block enthymemes" of the established order, I wish to claim here that once placed in proximity to verbal explanations, their plethora of potential interpretations is actually restricted to what is said and demonstrated in the image/text compound.

Many scholars address the rhetorical relationships that are established once "picture meets text" (Mitchell, Picture; Adam and Bonhomme; Kohn). They claim that between the two systems of symbolsthe visual and the verbalthere seem to ferment various sorts of relations such as analogy, opposition, completion, influence, adoption, and synthesis (Kohn 168; Adam and Bonhomme 217). They rely on Barthes’s idea of the relationship between text and image. In his "Rhetoric of the Image," Barthes describes the relationship between text and image on the basis of “anchoring” (where the text reduces the image’s polysemy) and “relaying,” where text and image both participate in the production of meaning (Barthes 28-30). He also views the linguistic as parasitical on the visual, in the sense that the image becomes an illustration of the verbal: "The text burdens the image, loads it with a culture, a morality, an imagination" (Barthes 14-15). The caption or the text provided in the nearby of the photo constrains the visual, as it restricts its interpretation to what is told. Since the text and the photograph are not identical (because they are two different "languages"), the image is not completely saturated by the explanation: it may hold things that are not captured by words. However, the text may hold information that explicates the image, in a way that attributes it a certain meaning that may not be originally denoted by the picture, as proven in Parry and El Fassed's account of the Corrie incident.  Notice the captions especially. particularly those captions which underscore images two and three from March 16, 2003.  They read respectively: 

Picture taken between 3:00-4:00PM on 16 March 2003, Rafah, Occupied Gaza. A clearly marked Rachel Corrie, holding a megaphone, confronts the driver of one of two Israeli bulldozers in the area that were attempting to demolish a Palestinian home. She was confronting the bulldozer in order to disrupt its work, and prevent it from threatening any homes. Photo by Joseph Smith.  (Parry and El Fassed)

Picture taken at 4:45PM. Other peace activists tend to Rachel after she was fatally injured by the driver of the Israeli bulldozer (in background). This photo was taken seconds after the bulldozer driver dragged his blade over her for the second time while reversing back over her body. He lifted the blade as seen in the photo only after he had dragged it back over Rachel's body. This image clearly shows that had he lifted his blade at any time he may have avoided killing her, as the bottom section of the bulldozer is raised off the ground. Photo by Richard Purssell.

The text I italicized is the information that is present in the text and not in the image, which conditions the interpretation of the image and limits it to the message conveyed in words. In the first example, though we do not see in the picture the houses that are to be demolished, we know they are there because we were told so. In the second example, conclusions are drawn (the driver could have avoided killing her) on the basis of visual evidence (the bottom section of the bulldozer is raised off the ground).

Finally, images are not only contextualized and restricted in meaning by a verbal explanation but also by proximity to other photographs. The juxtaposition of Corrie burning the flag and Corrie opposing the bulldozer enables the critiques to denounce her later action because if burning the flag is a demonstration of bad citizenship so is blocking the bulldozer (because by doing so, she sides with the enemies of the U.S.) (Carlos)

To conclude, what is supposedly gained by the "openness" [6] of the original image event is lost once the picture is subordinated to the logic of context (i.e., the images and the text that surround it). Effects, emotional and others, the strength of the pictorial affect, are mitigated by the presence and juxtaposition of text and images that produce a reasoning that functions to block any new interpretations.

Must the picture I depict of the destiny of image events remain so gloomy? Once they are diffused, is there a way for image events to circumvent triteness and restriction of meaning? One such way to escape banality is by appealing to genres that are not clearly persuasive and using them to convey arguments:

. . . discourses that do not overtly discuss a controversial subject (texts providing factual information, for example, or creating a fictional world), also belong to the realm of persuasion as they try to orient the audience's ways of seeing and judging the world." (Amossy, "The Argumentative" 87-90)

For instance, instead of arguing overtly with the opponents of Corrie's protest, Gregory Sylva manifests his support and admiration for her act by posting an obituary in the local newspaper:

Now Gregory Sylva has a new campaign. Disturbed by the U.S. lack of response to Corrie's death and the lack of justice in the way her story was told . . . de Sylva decided to honor Corrie's memory. To that end he placed an obituary in his local paper, reminding its 135,000 readers that Corrie was killed by American ally Israel for her honorable principles. Some similar-minded people contributed a total of $1,200 to continue the campaign, and the obituary now has appeared approximately 15 times.  (Powell 2)

Sylva's response to Corrie's image gave way to symbolic action (posting an obituary) that implicitly argues in favor of her action and refutes opposing claims (her protests should be condemned).

Lastly, one other way to shun banality and to "crack open the door to new modes of meaning" (Delicath and Deluca 327) is by appealing to artistic modes of expression that allow for a polyphony of arguments under one roof. By creating a play entitled My Name is Rachel Corrie (2005), on the life and death of the peace activist, Corrie is "resuscitated" and given a chance to literally stage her convictions publicly through the reading of e-mail correspondence with her parents. A documentary film by filmmaker and producer Yahya Barakat, Rachel: an American Conscience, lends ear to a host of voices by casting interviews with International Solidarity Movement volunteers. (Jones 80)



This paper was an attempt on my part to present a more complex definition of image events by exploring the constraints and the advantages of the image event once it is disseminated in the written press. I have stressed the importance of contextualization, by showing that framing is what determines the claim an image makes, on the level of the picture as well as in the image/text compound.

Secondly, I have put an emphasis on the importance of follow-up on the propagation of the image event. I have considered the same image event as it circulated in daily papers and on the internet. We have seen how from the moment it is diffused by the written press, the image event may undergo a metamorphosis, as it is set in new contexts or expressed in different genres. In this context, I explored the weakness, but also the strength, of repetition. Drawing on previous models, the stereotyped image event produced trite, battered arguments that did not contribute to the expansion of public discussion. On the other hand, the same appeal to stereotyped images produced a critical outlook on the current state of opinion. By referring them to the stereotypical element in the image event, readers are asked to question their current assumptions in a given conflict.

Lastly, new ideas and claims relating to a given image event may be given room once the visual and the persuasive cede to other means of expression where a thesis is advanced by artistic means, and a world view is challenged by a multiplicity of voices.

The question is not whether image events are arguments but whether they are capable in promulgating new arguments and provide new food for thought and public debate. It seems that this could be answered when image events are not only studied in their potentiality but also in their actuality. The concrete functioning of the image event produces a much more complex view of the way it acts as an argument and participates in generating more arguments.


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[1] Reuters image.  Courtesy of Reuters.

[2] The difference in photo size suggests that it is not a full sequence, but rather an assortment of pictures chosen and assembled from a video monitor.

[3] Picture taken from Channel Two Item, broadcasted on June 20 2005. The same image was published in Ha'aretz the following day.  Used with permission.

[4] As goes the paper's campaign from the nineties.

[5] Ever since 2002, and preceding the check post event and the publication of the caricature, four suicide bombings were carried out by women (April 13, 2002, suicide bombing in the Judah Market, Jerusalem; October 4, 2003, suicide bombing in a restaurant in Haifa; September 22, 2004, suicide bombing at a bus station in Jerusalem; January 2004, suicide bombing at Erez check post, the Gaza strip.

[6] I use here a metaphor applied by Umberto Eco to the interpretation of literary and other works. As Eco (1981) says, "You cannot use the text as you want, but only as the text wants you to use it. An open text, however 'open' it may be, cannot afford whatever interpretation" (9).