Marnova – of and from a wandering mind…

Marnova's musings on life, media and Mongolia

Posts Tagged ‘media


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In this age of  communication,  I find myself bombarded with shocking images that I am becoming increasingly desensitised to.  I frequently recall some lines our poet laureate once wrote about in her poem about a war photographer:

“A hundred agonies in black-and-white
from which his editor will pick out five or six
for Sunday’s supplement. The reader’s eyeballs prick
with tears between bath and pre-lunch beers.
From aeroplane he stares impassively at where
he earns a living and they do not care.”

– The War Photographer, Carol Ann Duffy

There are few images that shock and startle  me these days.  And yet this one did.  And it is good to know that I am not numb.  Really good.

Thich Quang Duc, Vietnamese Monk

Thích Quảng Đức protested against the persecution of Buddhists by South Vietnam's administration by setting himself alight. Credit: Malcolm Browne

At a busy downtown intersection in Saigon, on 11 June 1963, seventy-three-year-old Thich Quang Duc, sat at a busy downtown intersection and had gasoline poured over him by two fellow monks. As a large crowd of Buddhists and reporters watched, he lit a match and, over the course of a few moments, burned to death while he remained seated in the lotus position.  His heart did not burn and is now a Buddhist relic.

“I was to see that sight again, but once was enough. Flames were coming from a human being; his body was slowly withering and shriveling up, his head blackening and charring. In the air was the smell of burning flesh; human beings burn surprisingly quickly. Behind me I could hear the sobbing of the Vietnamese who were now gathering. I was too shocked to cry, too confused to take notes or ask questions, too bewildered to even think…. As he burned he never moved a muscle, never uttered a sound, his outward composure in sharp contrast to the wailing people around him. (1965: 211)”
-David Halberstam, New York Times (who declined to publish the image)

And the full poem, which I have never forgotten since I first read it.  There is something very real, immediate and pertinent about it.  And Carol Ann Duffy has deserved her ascendancy to poet laureate, there is something about her ability to weave strong imagery, metaphors and wry comedy into her topical poetry that makes kids and adults sit up and take notice. She was one poet that my students didn’t mind studying:

War Photographer

In his darkroom he is finally alone
with spools of suffering set out in ordered rows.
The only light is red and softly glows,
as though this were a church and he
a priest preparing to intone a Mass.
Belfast. Beirut. Phnom Penh. All flesh is grass.

He has a job to do. Solutions slop in trays
beneath his hands which did not tremble then
though seem to now. Rural England. Home again
to ordinary pain which simple weather can dispel,
to fields which don’t explode beneath the feet
of running children in a nightmare heat.

Something is happening. A stranger’s features
faintly start to twist before his eyes,
a half-formed ghost. He remembers the cries
of this man’s wife, how he sought approval
without words to do what someone must
and how the blood stained into foreign dust.

A hundred agonies in black-and-white
from which his editor will pick out five or six
for Sunday’s supplement. The reader’s eyeballs prick
with tears between bath and pre-lunch beers.
From aeroplane he stares impassively at where
he earns a living and they do not care.

Thich Nu Thanh Quang

A Buddhist nun protests the government's Catholic regime in Hue, Vietnam Credit: AP, May 29, 1966


Written by marnova

May 7, 2010 at 4:33 pm

A series of curious events

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OK.  So here we go.  The inevitable Michael Jackson mentionette.  It’s  been one of ‘those’ events – that most of use can count on one or two hands.  9/11, the deaths of Kurt Cobain and Princess Diana…where were you when you found out? 

Princess Diana’s death was a phenomena, the world went into mass mourning. On the morning of her funeral, I remember wandering the streets of London trying to find somewhere that was open to serve us breakfast. On 11th September 2001, I stepped off a train and arrived in Ulaanbaatar, Outer Mongolia to the news that a plane had flown into the Twin Towers and no further information for two weeks as I entered radio silence.  Twelve years on and the world is hyper-connected.  The news of Michael Jackson’s death took minutes to reach my desktop, before it reached blogs or news desks.  A few more minutes and the news was delivered to friends in bars, on army camps…along with millions of other people, I hit the refresh button on my internet browser repeatedly, looking for confirmation of the rumours, hoping that it would prove to be misinformation.  The sheer level of traffic took several high profile sites out.  And an hour later, there it was – confirmation on the BBC news website that Michael Jackson had died.

Now we’re in the calm before the storm, the stage where the media politely respect that a legend has passed on.  The very same lions that he was thrown to time and time again.  It’s only going to be a matter of a week or two before stories start coming out – people who weren’t ‘brave’ enough to speak out when he was alive.  Whether there will be any truth to their statements is neither here nor there, it will be a complete circus. 

I have no idea whether any of the famous news stories were true.  Maybe there is not smoke without fire.  Obviously, I don’t know him, I wasn’t part of his life, but the one thing I was sure of, was that anyone could see that Michael Jackson needed help and that there were warning signs for a long, long time.  Everytime I saw him and his increasingly disfigured face, I couldn’t help but feel sorry for this strange creature that only ever came across as bewildered, alone and desperately unhappy.  Very bittersweet.

Finally, Lisa Marie Presley has spoken out by posting on her Myspace about her marriage to Michael Jackson  It’s an interesting read.  It’s sad, but she feels extreme guilt, but I don’t think a single person could have been his saviour.  I think of him as another Judy Garland – a tragic child casualty of the entertainment industry.  No one can take away from him his awesome musical talent and the amazing legacy he has left the world.  Now, with the impending squirmish for dirt, his final layers of dignity will be stripped away.  I’ve only ever felt sorry for him, in life and now in death.  RIP MJ.

Written by marnova

June 30, 2009 at 2:55 pm