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On Thursday I saw a piece by Anna Witt that really struck me. It was a video in which the artist amplifies photographs that had appeared in the media, sticks them on a wall, and shows them to a class of children who are approximately 10 years old who describe what they think is happening. When I entered the room on screen there was a large group of refugees, with Hindu features, with their scant belongings wrapped in blankets, crossing a semi-desert zone. At first the children said they were people who had fled from their home, grabbing all they could. Later they began to say that maybe they had been driven out. That maybe they didn’t want to work, that they were vagrants and couldn’t pay for their house, and for this had been forced to leave. One of the children predicted that they would probably end up in German (the video was made in Germany).
Then the image appeared of a child, around ten years old, being frisked by the police. A black child, with a drawing painted on his face. Given the flags and sports-shirts, it could be a sort of stadium. One of the children watching immediately began to say that they had frisked him for security reasons, because you can’t even trust children. That there are also bad children who have weapons and carry out killings. Maybe he’s carrying a bomb. That though he might not have made the bomb, his father may have given it to him, as there are places like Afghanistan where parents give bombs to their children and order them to go and blow themselves up somewhere.
This video might not have left such an impression on me if it wasn’t for the fact that this morning I woke up to another video, in which a young, black man from an outlying district of London, with a large kitchen knife, bloody hands and a corpse behind him, said, visibly altered, that peace was over in England. What struck me most about this video wasn’t the inert body in the background, cool as we are when faced with death on the news, so much as the fact that the murderer directed himself to the camera asking to be filmed. And that someone, with a very steady hand, would do so. This need, above all, to appear on You-tube, and I don’t think it was solely in order to transmit his “message”. It was a grotesque mix of news bulletin about Afghanistan, rap video and advertisement for mobile phones with HD cameras.
Amongst all the barbarities that he let rip, however, there was one truth: that his government didn’t care about them. And at the same time as this happened in London, in Stockholm one car after another was being set alight in the outlying suburbs. Those suburbs, like Husby, where 85% of the population is of foreign origin (official statistics from the town council in Stockholm), where unemployment quadruples that of the city centre and the services, from schools to hospitals, are conspicuous by their absence. The world, said the newspapers, was perplexed by the demonstration of so much rage in the welfare state of Sweden.
And I’m perplexed that the world is perplexed. We live in a society of fear that is mediated and programmed according to an image that is totally accepted. Ten years old Germans find it normal that for security reasons (black) children of their age are frisked, children with whom they obviously don’t identify. But they do recognise in any image of the emigrant, the vagrant, taking advantage of social aid. With the children of an image-based society converted into discourse, who absorb through the media, billboard advertising, computer screens, images that they trust without a second thought, while they distrust the Blacks, Arabs and poor people in general. Any form of education leading to a critical perception of how the image is manipulated simply doesn’t exist so it comes full circle. If we are gullible enough to believe that the adolescents of Husby and the youth of Woolwich don’t perceive during their whole life the rejection projected upon them and aren’t capable of assuming the rage that this generates with its terrible consequences, we must learn to look again at the world.
"A desk is a dangerous place from which to watch the world" (John Le Carré)