On July 21, 356 BC, seeking notoriety, Herostratus (Ἡρόστρατος) burned down the Temple of Artemis at Ephesus (one of the seven wonders of the ancient world). The name, Herostratus has become a metonym (equivalent) for someone who commits a criminal act in order to become famous. Herostratus proudly proclaimed his guilt in an attempt to immortalize his name. The Ephesian authorities had him executed and forbade the mention of his name under penalty of death. However, the ancient historian Theopompus recorded the event and the name Herostratus in his “Hellenics.” In that sense, Herostratus was successful in achieving his goal.
Nice story – I know – but you ask, what does this have to do with the creation of fake “shopped” images? Well let me ask this: why do people create “fake” images. It’s all a matter of intention. As I’ve said in science and press photography it’s strictly forbidden- but elsewhere? Is it fair for me to laud the artist as one who “shops” images to create what (s)he believes to be beautiful, but at the same time to criticize the fashion and advertising photographer as one who “shops” images to make money? Both may make money from their labors and both are trying to create what they believe to be beautiful.
This part of it gets very complicated, and, I believe, that we are left with the issue of motive. If the motive is to exploit, to manipulate, to hurt, then it is wrong. We may defend someones right to self-expression, but at the same time we must condemn the morally repulsive, such as the overt exploitation of children in some fashion photography or racist undertones in manipulated political photo-images. Recognize that what is at stake is the very fabric of our ethical and political compass. And it is a very difficult and fine line to tread between our views of morality and civil liberties.
So, we appear to be after motive. Let’s consider again gun tottin’, bikkini clad Sarah Palin. It seems unlikely that the goal there was to deceive or even that it was truly political. No one really believed that the image was of Governor Palin. The political right looked at it, laughed, and saw their image of her as a kick-ass politician. The political left looked at it, laughed, and saw their image of her as a gun-crazed kick-ass politician. No real harm done. Someone made this image for amusement.
Now consider, the image of the Statue of Liberty and the tornado. Someone made that image possibly for fun. Was their intent really to deceive or just to have fun? If the intent was deception and political, perhaps to warn of the wrath of God or the dangers of global warning, then we may question its intrinsic morality – maybe that’s a strong word – its intrinsic acceptability. But it is just as likely that any ulterior motives came from others, who exploited the image.
A very important point is that we don’t really know, for sure, who made these images. They don’t come with a credit line. There are lots of people trying to go “viral” on the web, and we can perhaps, understand that in terms of people seeking a moment of fame and glory. It’s a curious and all pervasive social phenomenon. Perhaps they are seeking to be modern Herostratus’ – perhaps they share his motive. However, it is fascinating when all this is accompanied with namelessness, when the price of fame is anonymity.