Narratives of conflict can be interpreted many ways and depending on who is telling the story, these narratives may be affected by language, visual representations, and silences. Firstly, power plays a large role when telling narratives because as said in the lecture about Orientalism, the people who have power choose what has value. So those with power are going to put emphasis on things that matter to them or will benefit them when narratives of conflict are at their discretion. For example, if I were to see a fight between my siblings and my mom also saw the fight, when telling my dad, he would be more likely to believe my mother’s version of the story over mine. This is because I am known to over-exaggerate when telling stories and also because my mom holds a greater power over me. Depending on who holds the most authority is typically how we interpret the more credible source of the narrative. However, different interpretations are also made with each different narrative and the language and/or visuals used to describe it. This is made clear in Thomas de Zengotita’s book, Mediated, when he says that we deal with reality through representations (de Zengotita 1995). So every story or picture that someone tells or shows is something that they believe represents what they are trying to say, in which can be in turn interpreted differently by other people. Edward Said also brings this up in his piece, Orientalism, when he explains that what we are hearing through language, although a very organized and useful tool to relay information, is still just another representation of the actual “truth” (Said 1979). Said’s piece can also go along with the idea of how the past can change meaning after periods of violence, such as the view of the Orient after the terrorist attacks on 9/11. Many challenges are then faced because of new things that are being written, compared and depicted through the media that attempt to reinforce prior ideas that had been written about and discussed for years.
Visual representation has a large part in this because of how great the role of media is today. With television and internet holding so much power over things, we have become a society that puts a high standard on those things and holds much of what they say and show to be true. The real truth though is that because the media knows it has so much power, it tends to exaggerate and distort things to keep the viewer intrigued which creates a new narrative for us to then tell that is not exactly the truth. As we saw in the visual culture lecture, the media has a morbid sense of power over us in the way that it continually shows horrific things knowing that people will watch it. The silences that Trouillot then discusses are things that happen in a narrative as it becomes a part of history which are that of creation, assembly, retrieval, and significance (Trouillot 1995). As we look at and listen to each narrative and visual representation today, we need to think about how it came into being and the process it had to go through to become that piece of history.
Said EW. 1979. Orientalism. Vintage Books: New York.
Trouillot, M. 1995. Silencing the past: Power and the production of history. Boston, MA: Beacon Press.
Zengotita, T. D. 2005. Mediated: How the media shapes your world and the way you live in it. New York: Bloomsbury.