20 Jun ISIS Branding Slaughter and Perspective
This morning after dropping off my daughter at day camp I heard a long story on the radio about the successful social media branding campaign that ISIS has carried out through the use of psychotically brutal videos of torture and execution. The news anchor was incredulous that anyone might see these things and say, “I want to be a part of that!” Apparently it is very successful. I watched one of these videos the other day when a friend in the Kurdish section of Iraq posted it. I had seen the first part on the news, but the end was not broadcast. It’s basically a snuff film. A bunch of ISIS guys beat and berate some men they apparently randomly stopped on a highway. Then they line them up, shoot them in the head with handguns and then scream “God is Great”. They leave them there and drive off.
The radio piece left me almost as disturbed as the video had. Framing this brutal medieval barbarism in terms of branding and social media just felt wrong. On the other hand the dehumanizing effects of living in a world saturated with media, marketing, and branding seemed to dovetail with the oversimplified view of the world in which everyone who isn’t your friend is then your enemy, and can therefore be killed without guilt. The “brand expert” pointed out that the ISIS brand is terror and they have cornered the market on it.
When I got home from dropping off my daughter at day camp I took a walk around the meadow. I listened to the birds chirp as thoughts of Iraq swirled in my head. The people that I met in Sulimaniya were warm and kind. The shopkeepers in the market were welcoming. I thought about the armed men who entered similar markets in the last week and randomly killed people. It was hard to fathom.
The dischord between these thoughts and the bucolic setting I walked through was hard to reconcile. It’s been almost a year since we came to North Carolina to spend the month of July. As soon as we got here I started to walk around the meadow out back. When I was a kid, the meadow was a cow pasture. Shortly after I moved to New York the farmer died and his family left the land to the town as a public green space for tax purposes. For many years it was left idle and the pine forest creeped west from our back yard. Eventually the town started to take care of it, halting the plant world’s movement of manifest destiny.
We went back to New York for August and eventually came back to put our kids in school in Chapel Hill. In early September a friend, who also lives along the meadow, asked me to take some pictures of it for her mother. So in the late summer and early fall I began focusing my iphone on the plant life and I slowly began to get in touch with the rythms of the meadow.
After a couple of weeks of shooting, I came out one day to find that the meadow had been brutally mowed. I use the word brutal because the destruction was so shocking. When I began to pay attention to the plant life it was soaring and vibrant. The world was filled with flowering fall plants. I also use the term brutal because the destruction of their ground cover made all of the small animals vulnerable to hawks. The pathway was littered with dead mice.
This year, because I was shooting in May and June I have witnessed two early spring mows. After the first mow the milkweed came back with surprising vigor. Within a couple of weeks it was chest high and flowering. Then in mid June it was once again decimated. Last year I guess that I missed the mows because of my timing. Now I am starting to get used to them.
The native people lived lightly on the land, and the whole of the state was forested. When settlers spread to the far reaches of the state they cut down almost every tree to use the wood and farm the land. Some of those fields grew back. From the perspective of the natives, the first colonists must have seemed a lot like ISIS. From the perspective of the mice, and the plants, the mowers are brutal and psychotic killing machines.
When I first started taking pictures I wasn’t sure what I was looking for. As the seasons changed I found a rhythm. I have been most interested in decay and re-birth. I have almost shot a full year and I have learned a lot about patience, time, and cycles. When we are in the middle of the change things feel chaotic. The Arab spring has turned into ISIS spring. I hope that things will once again find a stasis in that part of the world.