Violence is always subjective and although it does have the capacity to shock and create awe, it should not be used just for that sake. Photographs of murder victims are an obvious choice for sensationalism and the photographs of the Boston deaths are surely a case in point. One asks the question, should these have been published in newspapers? Nora Ephrom in her seminal essay on the Boston photographs which graphically capture a failed rescue attempt in an apartment block in Boston seems to think that they do.
Ephrom argues that the photographs are indeed sensational and they show a child hurtling to his death while the other remains suspended in mid air in a state of suspended animation before eventually hurtling to the ground. The Boston Herald which published these photos supposedly were creating awareness about the dangers of fire escapes in the more depressed areas of Boston but the crude publication of the photos did appear sensationalist to say the least.
However the photographs did seem to jerk the authorities into action when they were published and the photographer received a Pulitzer prize for his work. However the general reaction of the public to the photographs was outstandingly negative.
“Most newspaper editors anticipate some reader reaction to photographs like Forman’s; even so, the response around the country was enormous, and almost all of it was negative. I have read hundreds of the letters that were printed in letters-tothe-editor sections, and they repeat the same points. “Invading the privacy of death.” “Cheap sensationalism.” “I thought I was reading the National Inquirer.” “Assigning the agony of a human being in terror of imminent death to the status of a side-show act.” “A tawdry way to sell newspapers.” (Ephrom p 3)
It is clear that Ephron believes that the publication of the Boston photographs was beneficial to the cause of general health and safety and that although they appeared to be sensationalist, the end result was that more awareness was created with regard to safety in such apartment blocks.
Sylvan Barnet , Hugo Bedau Critical Thinking,Reading, and Writing (a brief guide to argument) 7th edition by Chapter 4. pg 134-173, Assignment 4
NORA EPHRON, The Boston Photographs, reprinted in Chris Anderson and Lex Runciman, eds., Open Questions; Readings for Critical Thinking and Writing (Boston: Bedford/St. Martin’s, 2005).