It is, I suppose, about the act of looking. In an essay in The New York Times this week, Kim Phuc Phan Thi—the woman known as “Napalm Girl” after her image was captured by Associated Press photographer Nick Ut during the Vietnam War—wrote that the photo often made her feel “ugly and ashamed.” She noted that America typically doesn’t see images of school shootings, like the one last month in Uvalde, Texas, the way it does photos of foreign wars. Doing so might seem “unbearable,” she wrote, “but we should confront them.”
While Uvalde native Matthew McConaughey didn’t show images of the Ross Elementary shooting itself, he spoke during a press conference at the White House on Tuesday about meeting with the families of the victims. During his speech, part of a call for stricter gun laws, he talked about 10-year-old Maite Yuleana, whose green hightops were “the only clear evidence that could identify her at the shooting.” He pounded the lectern in frustration and gestured at his wife, Camila Alves, who was holding those same Converse. He asked everyone to look at them.
Television, social media, news reports—there is no shortage of things to point our eyes at every day. It almost becomes meaningless, just pixels collected in different arrangements. As Thursday night’s hearing came to a close, Capitol Police officer Caroline Edwards, who was guarding the building during the January 6 attack, gave her testimony. At one point she blacked out after hitting her head as the insurrectionists stormed in. She got up and continued trying to manage the crowd amidst what she called a war scene. “It was something like I had seen out of the movies,” she testified. “I couldn’t believe my eyes.” What she was asking was whether everyone else can.