Beheadings For Breakfast?

18xx Richtblock und Richtbeil anagoriaFacebook struck what it thought was a blow for freedom of expression: It is now going to allow beheadings to be seen in its news feeds.

Said the house of the billionaire Zuckerberg,

“since some people object to graphic video of this nature, we are working to give people additional control over the content they see. This may include warning them in advance that the image they are about to see contains graphic content.”

I am sure this oh-so-reasonable distinction without a difference is being celebrated at this very moment in some cave in Afghanistan by the crazies who delight in chopping off heads as acts of terror.

They do it so that their handywork will be seen. Facebook is ready to oblige them in the name of giving their members more control over the means of shocking others.

How nice.

Earlier, when their decision was roundly condemned, they qualified their pro-gore fatwa in this age of Zombie lovers everywhere, and just in time for Halloween, to put a liberal face on decision that makes chopping off faces more visible.

They said with a straight face and no sense of irony that these grotesque uber-violent videos would only be allowed if they are condemned as atrocities or shown as news.

Before you vote “Like”  consider that the effect is going make cool atrocities that are likely to gross people out,  or legitimate the practice or desensitize viewers.

I produced a human rights TV series, “Rights & Wrongs” for four years. Originally, we sought out videos that showed abuses on the theory they would outrage viewers and lead to more support for human rights protection.

What we found is that many in the audience turned away, were shocked, disgusted only to become  more alienated and stop watching.

Many saw it as exploitative.

Their sensibilities and sense of humanity was violated. The images overshadowed the information we offered at the same time.

We later earned that they much preferred stories about human rights heroes who challenged violations and opposed brutality.

Not everyone views violence as negative especially in a society where, as one time civil rights leader H. Rap Brown said, “violence is as American as Cherry pie.”

Popular video games, Films and TV shows are overloaded with violent imagry. Violence is accepted and now, it looks now like beheadings will be too.

Gross sells!

A new movie on Slavery, “12 Years A Slave” offers unrelieved scenes of blacks being beaten, whipped, lynched and killed.

The point, you would think, is to show how awful slavery is.

But there seems to be an unintended consequences too, as black movie critic, Armond White, explains in a review that suggests what we are watching is really torture porn.

He writes,

“These tortures might satisfy the resentment some Black people feel about slave stories (“It makes me angry”), further aggravating their sense of helplessness, grievance–and martyrdom.

…And the perversion continues among those whites and non-Blacks who need a shock fest like ’12 Years a Slave’ to rouse them from complacency with American racism and American history. But, as with ‘The Exorcist,’ there is no victory in filmmaking this merciless. (The Slave’s) travail merely make it possible for some viewers to feel good about feeling bad.”

He believes that films like this accustom moviegoers to accepting violence and brutality.

Back in 2011 Facebook was spammed by vicious pornographic images. Their security people did not welcome them, but worked hard to remove them

Redeye reported then,

“Graham Cluley, a consultant with Web security firm Sophos, said that “explicit and violent” images had been flooding the News Feeds of Facebook users for the past 24 hours or so including hardcore porn; photoshopped images of celebrities, including teen pop star Justin Bieber, in sexual positions; “extreme violence;” and at least one image of an abused dog.”

Disgusting, Right?

Do we want our children or even adults exposed to this avalanche of sleeze?

But somehow, now that Facebook has liberalized its privacy rules for teenagers, it thinks about access to beheadings as a new right.

We know that hardcore porn begets more hardcore porn with the truly deranged among us often anxious to imitate what they have seen.

One witness at a senate hearing some years back testified that pornography “increases the likelihood of sexual addiction… Sexual addicts also develop tolerance and will need more and harder kinds of pornographic material.”

Video games like the best selling Grand Theft Auto help viewers show what its like to torture someone.

An essay on warned,

“Don’t let the “virtual” nature of the torture deceive you. A conscious decision to inflict sadistic cruelty is more than just a mind game; it damages the soul and the psyche of the cyber-torturer. Consider what happens interiorly when the player realizes that he or she must “become” the torturer in order to move successfully to the next level.”

Beheadings are now a subject fit for dinner table discussion. A Wikipedia entry explains:

“Decapitation has been used as a form of capital punishment for millennia. The terms “capital offence”, “capital crime”, “capital punishment,” derive from the Latin caput, “head”, referring to the punishment for serious offences involving the forfeiture of the head; i.e., death by beheading.

Decapitation by sword (or axe, a military weapon as well) was sometimes considered the honourable way to die for an aristocrat, who, presumably being a warrior, could often expect to die by the sword in any event; in England it was considered the privilege of noblemen to be beheaded.”

So I guess there is a tradition here that is coming back into acceptability. Is this progress?

Lest you think that only Muslim madman cut heads off, remember that during the Vietnam war, many desensitized US servicemen collected enemy “ears” as trophies.  Everyday, there are bizarre crimes that force TV reporters to use euphemisms to report.

We saw how the U.S. soldiers at Abu Ghraib prison came up with perversions from the dark side of the American imagination. Interrogators involved in these crimes were never punished, just low-level soldiers.

Some tribes were known for shrinking heads to preserve them. Is that why the drug culture embraced “heads” too?

Television specializes in “talking heads.”

In this “cultural” environment, Networks try to outshock each other in pandering to the lowest common denominator.

Next, we may have beheadings in prime time in the name of fun and higher ratings.”

I can’t wait.

That’s a joke. And not a good one.

I was on Al Jazeera TV Tuesday making the argument on the air that I argue in this commentary. I was happy to note that Al Jazeera has already stated: “Al Jazeera has never and will never broadcast a beheading. Our journalism upholds the strictest guiding principles of accuracy, impartiality and objectivity.” I wish other outlets will follow their lead,

News Dissector Danny Schechter blogs at He edits, Comments to He is on twitter at @DannySchechter

12 Comments on "Beheadings For Breakfast?"

  1. I feel that game violence is incomparable to real violence. It’s my main qualm with this. I have never understood the fascination with seeing real gory violence though. That is to say, I have always been able to tell the difference between portrayed and real violence/death.

    I find it telling that nudity is nixed on facebook, but murder and death is not. Pornography was mentioned as well. I am lukewarm on this topic. Although, I can see where sharing pics on FB can be a huge problem. Such as hateshaming an ex, or a classmate.

    We live in odd times.

    • DrDavidKelly | Oct 24, 2013 at 5:28 pm |

      Indeed. It seems incomprehensible that one can watch someone be beheaded but I can’t see some lovely tits, ass, cock – whatever your fancy. The very idea that we even put sexual or erotic material in the same category as violence is just too weird.

      • perhaps, because it can be claimed sex is sacred. that’s harder to claim about violence, although some might say it is.
        I cant stand seeing violence, though.

        • DrDavidKelly | Oct 25, 2013 at 4:30 pm |

          Sex can be ‘sacred’ or it can be just fuckin’. Be far better to lump bonking and prayer together that being the case.

          • what I mean, is that because sex can be considered sacred to many people it is more likely to offend people. Violence is not as offensive to people because it doesn’t have many claims to sanctity. It is offensive, but just for different reasons. Some people find it important that people see examples of violence, particularly human rights abuses, so people can better understand the reality many people are stuck in, and to encourage empathy. Whether or not that’s true is a matter of opinion.

          • DrDavidKelly | Oct 26, 2013 at 4:53 pm |

            Which is less offensive? Sex or beheadings? If you were given the choice which would you choose? Have your head cut off or a romp in the sheets? I think the answer is clear. One is a brutal death, the other a great delight. So why should we attach the same moral standards to them? Sacred is a word often used by people to defend antiquated ideas.Eg. I mutilated his genitals because it is a sacred act within my religion. Lets drop the facade and see things as they are. Comparing sex to a violent murder is about the most ridiculous pairing I can think of. I know you are playing devil’s advocate but to place sex and murder in the same category is an abomination. Having said all this though I am not one for censoring the internet.

          • well by making something a taboo, you show yer respect for it and the awareness of its power produces awe. violence is not to be respected, it has no real power and exposing it and its roots may serve to destroy it. if you show blatant images of sex everywhere you make it something banal. sex is great but it(and the people that perform it) should be shown a little respect.
            I was actually saying they are in totally different categories. sex is sacred and should be accepted as a mystery, so kept fairly private. violence is banal and boring and should be shown for what it is, although it is disrespectful to the people who are abused to show images and videos of them. images of violence can serve to generate empathy or it could desensitize us to others’ suffering, so i think we should be more careful of portraying it. but not as careful as sex, which is sacred.
            as for censorship, its just another drop in the bucket of rules and laws the rulers make for their subjects.

  2. specialtasks | Oct 24, 2013 at 6:53 pm |

    “Their sensibilities and sense of humanity was violated. The images over|shadowed| the information we offered at the same time.”

    Consider the format and the time constraints – along with the affect of editing centered on the “dramatic” – on creating a “story” to jolt an impulse in the viewer, not to inform. Despite living in the “Information Age” we are still attached to shadows, they come first.

    Going further – what happens when a viewer sees first-hand video footage of dead children in Syria book-ended by a “Buzz” entertainment story about pop-stars and a commercial for Tide laundry detergent? Or beheadings mixed in with cat videos and images of barely tolerable acquaintances trying too hard in their wedding photos? The image is the master, context is ripped apart.

  3. Jeb Morningside | Oct 24, 2013 at 7:21 pm |

    This article is crap. Facebook still censors too much, but this is at least a step in the right direction.

  4. I’ve seen it suggested that the Saudis provide content for an all-beheading video channel.

  5. cooldaddysquid | Oct 25, 2013 at 2:36 pm |

    Will Facebook now allow nude photographs?

    • DrDavidKelly | Oct 25, 2013 at 4:30 pm |

      I dont know, as a bit of a joke/protest I’ve been uploading shots of boobs to my FB page and so far none have been taken down?

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