The Existence of Images in the Digital Sphere

Not only in our day in age is the almost revolutionary availability of images via platforms on the internet astounding – so much so that the implications of the saying “the personal is the universal” is actually quite scary – but the almost absurd vulnerability of images, and how easily subject they are to manipulation is something that alters the existence of images, of artwork, of photographs, of representations drastically.

Images can so easily be taken out of the contexts they initially and naturally exist in, and henceforth used to represent something totally other than what the images were conveying initially. Take for example, Felix KjellBerg, popularly known as Pewdiepie on Youtube. The latest controversy surrounding his image concerns the way “old media” (as he describes it: newspapers, as opposed to new media such as digital platforms like Youtube) cut and pasted certain images and used them under a different light, to in fact label Pewdiepie as a Nazi.

A single frame taken from one of Felix KjellBerg’s videos evidently portraying him as an anti-Semite. Photo Credit: vox.news

Here Pewdiepie is… hailing Hitler so it would seem.

We have this general image of what Nazism looks like, and this Nazi image has been cut and pasted onto the Pewdiepie, almost as purposely as someone gluing a fake black moustache onto a photo, then declaring him Hitler.

The subject is no longer what he was before, but has now been forced to undertake a new identity: what and how the image of Nazism is represented as. Consequently, Wall Street Journal reported that Disney severed ties with Pewdiepie (for the sake of its own image – and how its associations and how images associated with it, can affect its own image, which again hammers home the point of how vulnerable and manipulative images are) for displaying “representations” of Nazism and anti-Semitic “imagery”.

Images are used to attach meaning to concepts, in some cases to generalize or oversimplify concepts such as anti-Semitism. And then images are used to reduce individuals to labels or categories or definitive definitions. This image of Pewdiepie was obviously circulated, along with the widespread controversy associated with it, which frankly is too extensive to get into. But the mere fact that he was reduced to the images he was representing, the images he was portraying is quite absurd; and in using these “paused” images – the frames of a video – these images attempt to convey what they believe to be “true” about a person: that if they look like this, or portray themselves like that, they’re automatically and indefinitely a fascist.

Is this the truth, or is “the Truth” manipulated to be a certain thing; is it being looked at from a certain perspective to mean something inherently other, and stating that this other is what’s true, as opposed to other perspectives or angles? Is Pewdiepie a fascist or a nazi? That’s beside the point. How he’s conveyed in new media, how he’s portrayed in both new and old media. That’s what’s fascinating. That the image explains it all, that a mere snapshot of a person’s representation conveys the entire truth is a notion that is bewildering.

We tend to force people into boxes, lump them into labels, shove them into categories primarily based on what we are able to witness, to see with our eyes – as if it were truly that simple to know someone. Giving people a title, and tagging an image to represent that title in order to secure a specific reality regarding that person, dumbing them down to mere word and image in order to provide a truth about them, reinforcing not even lazy ways of thinking, but the inability to think at all: to question, to interrogate, to contemplate, to think for one’s self instead relying on the crowd.

This all goes to show that images, much like words, are powerful. But what are they exactly? Are they mere tools that would remain stagnant, lifeless entities, like old powered down robots, if it weren’t for human beings using them actively? Does their power come from us who give it to them? Or are they frames taken from the larger film of reality that present themselves to us, and what they are and what they mean to us is totally dependent on our perception, on our definitions, on our opinions?

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