Snap-happy revellers never learn the lesson. Photographic records of sin aren't supposed to be worse than sin itself, but sometimes they are close. The latest incident, quickly dubbed the army scandal, involved a photo showing a group of soldiers in an act that looks like an orgy with a woman. A gang rape, some charged. Mutual consent, others defended. Punishment, however, has been rightly promised by the Army Chief against the participants. To observers, the moral and philosophical debates entail: is such punishment is meted out against the orgy, or against taking pictures of the orgy and posting them online?
In a way, you can defend an orgy (at your own risk, look at the Marquis de Sade), but can you also defend the act of capturing an orgy for photographic keepsakes and sharing them with the world? In the times we're living in, our obsession with turning everything into a photographic record _ our pleasures, mostly, but also our vices _ have become something like a performance. There's a whiff of naive, harmless, celebrity ambition when we snap pictures of our food, pets, happy trips, and publish them in the digital nebula. When it comes to darker, more dubious activities, the mental high is intensified. The ease with which we can record our criminality _ small or large _ and keep it as a souvenir or advertise it as a cool stunt has become a psychological phenomenon that will be studied in academia for decades to come.
The Thai privates obviously thought it was fun to snap pictures of their private debauchery. Just like those celebrities embroiled in sex-clip scandals. Or like the US soldiers at Abu Ghraib who recorded the torture they administered on prisoners. Or, the story surfaced last month, like the US troops who posed, smiling, with mutilated corpses and body parts of Afghan insurgents. The sense of triumphalism is visible in those pictures. Shame wasn't factored in, otherwise they wouldn't have pressed the shutter in the first place. Shame often comes later when the high is usurped by something else, such as guilt, remorse, indefensibility. Their mementos of triumph _ the pictures _ become their Trojan Horses.
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