Pages like this are not new. They are part of the Heavy Artillery of the Red T ops in the battle for readers. The small storm (which now seems to have passed over the Sun to cloud the skies of Richard Dawkins) around yesterday’s front page is illustrative of the ways in which people – I ‘d include myself – find a sudden burst of righteous anger when faced with insensitive idiocy.
And it was idiotic, wasn’t it? I’m not imagining it when I see the picture of a young boy with mark on his chest being described as having a “mark of Satan” and think “This is cruel on so many levels”? If we discount at the first filtering of idiocy the notion that this is mark of Satan – I must dust off my copy of Keith Thomas’ Religion and the Decline of Magic before I go down that route too far – we are left with a child accidentally or on purpose marked (possibly a burn, possibly a pressure mark – and speculation is with the end of a hairdryer) and the picture found by or sent to a newspaper. The Independent has a good line in its discussion:
“…the silly season ceased to exist a long time ago. In the information age there is never a shortage of news. Least of all now, as the world is transfixed by the horrific events in Gaza.”
The next line of idiocy – it feels like mounds of rubbish in some intellectual rubbish dump – is the defence that the parents thought it funny. Parents have a right to find their children funny, from child A (yes, a real person, now an adult) getting dressed entirely in Thomas the Tank Engine stickers to child B (another real person, still quite small) arguing about bed time by pointing out that her partner in crime, the cat, is allowed to stay up. Parents are also allowed to be delighted or exasperated by their children, to be worried by them, entertained and challenged. Go into Twitter and find adoptive dad Nick King to hear the stories, or find his blog.
What parents can’t do is mark or hurt their children, find it funny and publicise it. It may be, of course, that this isn’t what happened – there are all sorts of explanations possible and You’ve Been Framed type publicity at least provides a precedent - but we should be wary of such images for a number of reasons, and here are two:
Children’s rights are sometime seen as a left-wing or woolly liberal excuse for getting children off the hook when they have done something wrong. Given the context of this particular picture, in which a demonic mark and abduction by aliens are mooted as possible, the Sun commodifies the child to an extent where the rational has gone out of the window. It’s exploitative. This is what children’s rights are about: protection children from mindless exploitation.
Images of children are themselves highly emotive. This can be positive – fond memories, key moments, assessment opportunities – but it could also be traumatic (as in the images from Syria and Gaza, which may or may not stir the viewer into action or at least sympathy) for the child or for others. We are bombarded with images of children suffering; in what way does this image lighten that load or seek to do good?