I was reading an article today for my MA studies and a sentence in a journal struck me:
“the manifest function on allowing the victim of a firing squad to be blindfolded is to make the occasion less stressful for him, but it may also serve as a latent function for reducing the stress of the executioner” (Milgram, S. 1965).
The context of this sentence was suggesting that the proximity in which harm is inflicted and the extent of that harm, is impacted by how close the inflictor of harm comes to their victim and how much the inflictor of harm can disassociate or deflect their harm.
What interests me is the concept of the blindfold, and how this can be used as a means to lessen the effects of an execution to both the executed and the executioner. I bet many of you are reading this and thinking what is she going on about, and for those who know me a bit more, I bet you know I am soon going to be talking about the use of labels, their impact and consequences. Bringing into focus the metaphorical blindfold, of which many people use to ignore the harm in their actions, and words.
Lots of research has already identified the harmful consequences of labels, in fact the MoJ have themselves identified the harmful consequences of labels, and they still depict stigmatising and harmful language within many of their publications. Further, and of great popularity, trauma tourism is becoming ever more popular within self-published books, often having to go through no ethics processes to negate harmful practice or to ensure fully informed consent is given to authors to effectively sell other people’s real life traumas as stories for profit.
The metaphorical blindfold is real.
In the example used to set the scene for this blog, the blindfold in an execution is a real one. Put over the eyes of the victim whilst simultaneously providing the executioner space to kill without seeing the pain, terror and fear in the eyes of another person. The blindfold has two functions, one is to relieve the stress of the victim, who will not see exactly when he will be executed. The second function is to provide the executioner with a reduction in stress as a result of not seeing the victim’s eyes.
I wanted to use this space and citation to further explore how metaphorical blindfolds are used in trauma tourism publication, and the continued use of a damage based framework which continues to depict criminalised women as vulnerable, weak and in need of saving. Labels which, actually support and sustain our oppression and serve to exacerbate the inequalities that so many of us already experience.
Let’s start with the obvious, when people write about criminalised people, those people nor the authors have a physical blindfold which stops them from seeing the harm they may cause through their discourse and narrative. Further, many people will have undergone a robust and vigorous ethics panel for approval of their research and future publication. This process is a process in which you can discuss aspects of any potential harm in research and writing, and to evidence ways in which you will mitigate harm and what procedures will be in place for research participants to seek support should they need it. However, as indicated self-published trauma tourism stories told from mouths of people who haven’t swallowed them, follows no such process. The absence of process to mitigate harm is a metaphorical blindfold in and of itself. Simply, you cannot plan to mitigate harm if you don’t have a process to even identify potential harm in the first place. So, in these instances the metaphorical blindfold as a means to offer the victim and the executioner protection, is only a self-serving form of protection for the author who persists in his stolen literature for self-attribution with no consideration to any potential harm they may cause.
The avoidance of ethics and identification of harm also allows trauma tourism to be published away from the realms of literature which is scrutinised and peer reviewed. This allows space where authors consider their work as unhamrful, when it is not. It just navigates out of the spaces where the harm would otherwise be identified and mitigated for. More than likely, reducing the airplay of our version of events told by them!
More often than not trauma tourism publications are created without true knowledge and consent, often from professionals, in positions of power. The narrative stories of people they depict in their writings have no choice in their narrative because it’s being narrated by somebody else. They have no choice in whether they want their trauma in a storybook, because often a name change for anonymity is enough to influence publishers that that constitutes enough protection, regardless of how reading someone else’s depiction of your own personal trauma may affect you. What is also evident is that the popularisation of trauma tourism is often produced for entertainment but dressed up as informative innovation. What is clear is the regurgitation of people’s traumas through other people’s narratives does little to change the environments where those traumas exist. So, when you continue to support and share and write about the trauma of others, through your own words in a misunderstood theory of how change works, then you are intentionally blindfolding yourself through ignorance. You are blindfolding yourself as the executioner who is inflicting harm on those very people whose stories you have stolen, in a misguided attempt to bring about change. Trauma tourism publication does not offer a blindfold to the people whose stories are stolen and readable. It is only executioners of trauma tourism who really benefit from the blindfold.