The strange thing about crime-scene photos is that their reality doesn’t immediately come across. Our notions about what death looks like have been so shaped by Hollywood movies that an image taken without artful lighting, music cues, and reaction shots throws us back on our own resources. In all the crime scene photos I’ve looked at, the flat lighting and utilitarian angles create a sense of distance that makes the dead bodies look unreal, mannequin-like. It doesn’t last, though, and as you take in the details you realize that you are looking at actual blood and brains, that those wounds caused real pain and death. Above all, in the worst pictures, you stare at the corpse’s face and understand that this is a human being who experienced the horror of knowing that death was coming.
That’s why I’m glad Gawker ran this crime-scene photo of Trayvon Martin. The Zimmerman trial has generated a higher-than-usual amount of vapid commentary on cable news, and the conspiracy claques have been hard at work coming up with fantasy scenarios that turn Trayvon Martin into a violent, hoodie-clad stand-in for every black kid who ever made you fume in your car as he took his smirking time crossing the street. I’ve even read crap that has the Kenyan Muslim Socialist trying to manipulate the trial outcome from the White House.
When it comes to personal firearms, policy is fear-driven and fantasy-based. Death Wish fantasies informed the Florida handgun laws that allowed Zimmerman to indulge his own vigilante fantasies. Variations of the same fantasies are driving much of the commentary I’ve seen.
So take a look at the photo and understand that this is the product of those fantasies. That kid sure doesn’t look like he was in a knock-down, life-or-death struggle with Zimmerman — not to me, anyway. But all I know is what I can see in that photo. That’s the reality of what happened. And, questions of good taste and journalistic restraint be damned, that’s why this photo should have been on every front page and every cable news channel.