Sample Argumentative Essay on Visual Realism and Cultural Anesthesia

Bazin Idea of Photography

The idea of physically representing images on a light-sensitive paper is answers the need
to preserve objects from their timely destruction. The earliest efforts at preserving objects existed
in Egypt, whereby mummies embalmed bodies. Through evolution, other forms of representation
arose, including art and photography. Although the need to ‘freeze’ life is fulfilled in these new
forms, there is the more important concept of creating an ideal world with a perfect likeness with
the real and shares its temporal destiny. Visual realism entails all aspects that give an image its
original appearance, free from any interference, such as computer editing. According to Bazin
(1960, p.11), two important aspects of an image include the spiritual (psychological) expression
and the aesthetic (psychological) representation.
Plastic arts shared a spiritual reality with the painter, implying that the painter’s world
became transferred to the viewer’s consciousness through the presentation of details. In terms of
aesthetic representation, artists aim at making the copy an actual representation of the symbol.
Painters, therefore, aim at balancing between spiritual expression and duplicating the outside
world. Developments in photography solved the mystery of visual realism, in that light-sensitive
paper can embalm a moment in time in the exact way it happened. In terms of spiritual
fulfillment, the audience shares a psychological connection with the photographer based on the
viewing angles and other photographic elements.
Since its discovery, photography, including film making, is trusted due to its ability to
give an accurate representation of the original image or scene. According to MacDougall (1998,
p. 200), a lot of doubts come in when editing a film, especially after a change in shooting angles.
In connection to Bazin’s idea of photography, making a perfect representation of an object is
vital in the filming process. Even after changing shooting angles, filmmakers often discard parts

of the footage that may contain valuable information. Generally, video editing denies the
audience certain elements from the original footage and provides them in other forms that may
offer an imbalanced view.

Cultural Anesthesia in King's Beating

Cultural anesthesia postulates that in a post-war capitalist world, degrading people
increases the capacity to inflict pain on them and rendering such pain as worthless of any social
intervention. This degradation of people upsurges from the uneven distribution of cultural
representation in systems based on race, sex, economic status, and cultural domination (Feldman,
1994, p. 90). For example, in televising operation Desert Storm, the bodies of Arab victims got
erased electronically, making them appear like grains of sand threatening the American military
arsenal. The editing work was aimed at corrupting the truth to pass out a different message from
what happened.
In the beating of Rodney King, the defense played the video at a speed that changed the
appearance of what occurred on the scene. The actual beating of Rodney King was very brutal,
with political figures such as former President Bush remarking that what he saw made him sick.
“It was outrageous!” He added (Reed, 2012). However, the jurors reconstructed the video in
what was seen as a racially biased move to dismiss King’s case. The reconstruction resulted in
the jurors only seeing a trailer of the actual beatings, and slow-motion play lowered the
emotional impact of the beating. As Bazin argues, the purpose of photography is to carry forward
the spiritual and aesthetic aspects of the real world. The jurors corrupted their ability to represent
the truth by editing the video, leading to a lighter emotion than was originally intended (Bazin,
1960, p.11).
After the beating, King had to be taken to the hospital. One of his attending nurses

testified to the court of verbal abuse from Officer Powell to King who worked at a sports
stadium. “We played a little hardball tonight. Do you remember who was playing? …we won
and you lost” (Feldman, 1994, p. 96). In making that statement, Powell acknowledged
mishandling King based on a racial and social disparity between them. But by using a cultural
common-ground of sports, Powell normalized the violence done and brought the act to the level
of “acceptable”. The officers exhibited their exercise of cultural anesthesia in dismissing the
beatings as part of the job and arguing that he acted in a bear-like manner.
Current Issues in America: Social Media and Movies

Photography is an important part of expressing oneself. In the past, artists made paintings
to express inner feelings and ideas. Presently, people use photography to capture important
aspects of their lives such as birthdays, anniversaries and so on. Such photographs record
feelings such as joy and gratitude for future memory. However, modern technology allows
people to edit pictures, and in so doing, create a rift between what's real and fabricated. Casually
referred to as Photoshop, young girls enlarge their eyes, modify their lips, add curves to their
bodies. Boys will include features that were not present, such as an expensive car in the
background. Millennials improve the aesthetic qualities of their photographs to satisfy their inner
craving for things they wish for. The argument is, “If people will be more attracted to me, then
the edit is worth it.”
Photoshop has caused people to go out on blind dates, only to be served with what was
not ordered. When used discretely, edited images can be used to gain popularity with a good
purpose, such as advocating for human rights. The widest application of editing in photography
is found in movies, whereby characters are given surreal bodily features and powers. Batman, for
example, is capable of shooting spider webs and using them to scale buildings at a high speed.

The Hulk in the Marvel comics is immensely huge, green in color, and can destroy buildings
with his bare fists. The electronic editing of characters is, therefore, used to good purpose.
However, when videos are edited to change the true qualities of the original, the changes are
used to propagate evil, such as in cultural anesthesia.



Bazin, A. (1967). What is Cinema? Volume I. Trans. Hugh Gray. Berkeley: University of
California Press.
MacDougall, D. (1998). Unprivileged Cinema Style. Transcultural cinema (pp. 199-208).
Princeton: Princeton University Press.
Reed, C. (2012, March 22). From the archive, 22 March 1991: President Bush sickened by
Rodney King's case. The Guardian. Retrieved from
Seremetakis, C. N. (Ed.). (1994). From Desert Storm to Rodney King via ex-Yugoslavia: On
Cultural Anesthesia. Allen Feldman, The senses still (pp.87-107). Boulder, Co: Westview