25 June 2009

Neda, myth, and martyr

Here is an interesting thread I noticed on XX Factor, a blog on Double X, Slate's newest venture. Double X is a website for women; I've only perused the site briefly, but my first impression is one of cross between Lifetime and Bust Magazine.

First Dana Stevens posted Is The "Neda" video a snuff movie?", a somewhat measured musing on the "construction of a martyr mythology in the blogosphere’s reporting on Iran," and concludes, "Western sympathizers convinced they’re manning the virtual barricades by turning their Twitter avator photos green, resetting their locations to 'Tehran,' and feverishly forwarding a graphic unsourced video of a young girl’s death strike me as both touchingly enthusiastic and dangerously inane." Fair enough.

As follow-up, there was Of Course the Neda Video is a Snuff Movie, by Susanna Breslin, a post whose self-righteous title is meant to be provocative. Just reading that title, I found my sensibilities offended to the point where I had to read on. The argument is the feminist trope that the world is gripped by the video of Neda Agha Soltan's murder, not merely because it is horrifying, but because she was young, and pretty, and female.

It suggests a naive political correctness by ascribing base motives to those who have seen the video: "We watch the video not purely for political reasons, but also because we are curious. About life, and death, and what happened. And in that, it becomes a form of entertainment. We fetishize it, its story, and its characters."

Stevens elaborates: "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."

The part that disturbed me the most was this: "No, like a 'true' snuff movie, the video was not created for the purpose of entertainment. Although why it was created, at least for now, remains something of a mystery. One man stood over Neda and videotaped her while she died. Somebody else uploaded it to the Internet. Now, we disseminate it. It plays before our eyes, enigmatic, and we imbue it with meaning."

I beg to differ.

I can tell you exactly why this video was created, and why it has caught the world's attention. Something horrible is happening before the eyes of the world in Iran, and I imagine that those who have the misfortune of bearing witness to it must feel an obligation to tell the world the truth. As one reader on Andrew Sullivan's The Daily Dish put it, what is happening in Iran is Anne Frank's diary. Live. Multiplied by millions.

Someone recorded this moment because a helpless woman lay dying and there was nothing anyone could do to save her. Neda Agah Soltan was powerless, as was everyone around her. Confronted with being so utterly useless in the face of such brutality, the videographer did the only thing he could do; record it for posterity, so that the world could see first hand what this regime is capable of.

By removing the Soltan family from their home, and denying them their right to mourn in keeping with their religious customs, and to lie about the cause of her death, it is the Iranian regime — not the media, not a bunch of perverts who enjoy jerking off to images of a woman killed — that is responsible for turning Neda into a martyr.

The story of Neda Agha Soltan's death is about human, not women's suffering. To pose an argument about the feminist implications of this horrifying clip while in the thick of a humanitarian crisis is small minded and reductive, the kind of naive, microcosmic feminism that gives feminism a bad name.


  1. Thank you Pamela. I had a lsightly different take on the unduly complicated and shall we say nuanced analysis of what seems to me to be a pretty straightforward phenomenon, but I feel we are on a similar wavelength.


  2. very interesting

  3. "what is happening in Iran is Anne Frank's diary. Live. Multiplied by millions."

    You really have no mind at all, do you?

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