Is Turning Neda Into An Icon The Answer?

Yesterday we posted about Neda, the Iranian woman who was gunned down during protests in Tehran this weekend. Her brutal death was caught on camera and posted on YouTube, and many websites, including The Frisky, have posted it. She’s been deemed the “face” of the opposition movement in Iran, particularly representative of the women who have been at the forefront of the protests against the results of the corrupt presidential election. But some are wondering if Neda’s martrydom is appropriate and just. One blogger wrote:

“…to flatten her death down into a two-dimensional message on a placard is to reduce her life too. Making this woman into a symbol takes away from the complexity of her human experience and in an odd way overlays meaning on to a fundamentally senseless act.”

And our own Leonora Epstein responded on her blog:

“My concern is that she’s becoming a YouTube phenomenon/icon whose intrigue at heart may be about the issues in Iran, but more superficially, is about gross human curiosity of what it’s like to see someone die. Those videos were on YouTube yesterday, and I hope they’re removed. Keeping them up is not to emblematize a symbol courage, but to reduces Neda to a horror film-like molecule of entertainment.”

Over at Double X, writers Susannah Breslin (who also writes for The Frisky), Meghan O’Rourke, and Dana Stevens are also debating the issue, with Breslin and Stevens agreeing that the Neda video is essentially a snuff film and that her youth and beauty are particularly eye-catching to people who have flocked to see it on YouTube. Writes Breslin:

“This isn’t to diminish the content of it. It is a horrifying, saddening, frantic look at a woman dying in the street. But I don’t think that’s exactly what we’re talking about here. We’re talking about the something else the video becomes when its focus and attendant narrative take on the qualities of martyr and myth. The video becomes something else altogether, something that, more often than not, is more about us than the subject itself…. It reminds me a bit of the character of Laura Palmer from ‘Twin Peaks,’ a dead girl whom everybody fetishized, in death more so than in life.”

There is a tiny problem with making Neda a martyr for Iranian freedom — according to her family, she was not political and at the moment of her death had decided to get out of her car to get fresh air. She was casualty of being in the wrong place, at the wrong time. Who knows whether she would have become an activist or not; her life ended before she, or us, could find out. Is it right that her death is playing out on our laptop screens for a cause she, personally, was not involved in? Or does that matter, since her death came as the result of her country’s unjust circumstances? And do we need to watch her die in order to get, at least a little more, what the Iranian opposition is fighting for? Or does it cheapen our understanding, much the way Nicholas Sarkozy has shown his to be, by proposing a ban on burqas in France? I’m not sure of the answers, but I thought all of this made for thoughtful discussion, one I’m sad we have to have, but also happy we can have in this country and on The Frisky. Looking forward to hearing your thoughts.

[Twentysomething Tales]
[Double X: Is the “Neda” Video a Snuff Movie?]
[Double X: Of Course the Neda Video Is a Snuff Movie]
[Double X: On Watching Neda’s Death]