Compassion Fatigue

Today, documentary photographers working in the tradition of Riis and Hine are recording the situation along the border with Mexico and in new immigrant communities throughout the United States. There is always a danger that the proliferation of photographs of horrendous situations will induce what has been called “compassion fatigue.” (Moeller, Susan D. 1999. Compassion fatigue: how the media sell disease, famine, war, and death. New York: Routledge)

One of the concepts that comes up in any discussion of representations of the Other is the notion of compassion fatigue. Continue reading “Compassion Fatigue”

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Susan Moeller

Susan Moeller took the idea of compassion fatigue and wrote an entire book on the subject (chapter 1 available online here). She gives the example of a famous Save the Children campaign, which challenges the viewer to help the child or turn the page. The first time one sees the ad, one may be moved to make a donation; the second time the reader may linger over the picture and read the text, then turn the page; by the third viewing, the page is turned without hesitation, and at the fourth view the reader begins to cynically analyse how the ad is deliberately constructed to work on the emotions and feelings of guilt in the viewer. This is a classic example of compassion fatigue, and Moeller gives the impression that it occurs regardless of the ultimate cause of the charity or advertiser. Continue reading “Susan Moeller”

David Campbell, The Myth of Compassion Fatigue

In a really interesting and informed response, David Campbell takes issue with (in particular) Moeller and Sontag. He published a short introductory article to accompany the first draft of a paper that looks at compassion fatigue in a fresh light. Continue reading “David Campbell, The Myth of Compassion Fatigue”

James Johnson, ‘The Arithmetic of Compassion’: Rethinking the Politics of Photography

This is a very interesting and thought-provoking article by political theorist Johnson (B.J.Pol.S. 41, 621–643 Copyright Cambridge University Press, 2011) that looks at the incoherent notion of politics of compassion, picking up where Campbell left off. The basic idea is that compassion is related to individual suffering, and as such cannot be translated into a call for political action. Continue reading “James Johnson, ‘The Arithmetic of Compassion’: Rethinking the Politics of Photography”

Paul Slovic, “If I look at the mass I will never act”: Psychic numbing and genocide

This paper (published in Judgment and Decision Making, Vol. 2, No. 2, April 2007, pp. 79–95) in a sense repeats many of the ideas expressed by Campbell and Johnson (indeed, both those authors refer to Slovic’s work in their articles. He comes at the topic not from a political or cultural point of view, but from the science of psychology. Continue reading “Paul Slovic, “If I look at the mass I will never act”: Psychic numbing and genocide”