Hamlet’s Character Transformation

“For all his talk, Hamlet’s state of mind and motivations are no clearer at the end of Hamlet than they were at the beginning.” Evaluate this proposition playing close attention to relevant aspects of dramatic technique in Shakespeare’s play, including discussion of at least three of Prince Hamlet’s soliloquies.

To evaluate Hamlet’s state of mind and motivations is a challenge. As Hamlet himself puts to Guildenstern, “Call me what instrument you will, though you can fret me, yet you cannot play upon me.” In this literary analysis, like Guildenstern, I also seek to play Hamlet to a tune, and that tune aims to reveal that Hamlet’s motivations and state of mind are clear and do change and develop contrary to the proposition. There are key differences in the Hamlet at the beginning of the play and the Hamlet who returns from witnessing Fortinbras’ marching troop and the pirates after his short-lived exile from Denmark – which can be shown through several soliloquies and supported by dramatic technique employed intentionally used by Shakespeare to this end. Though there are several veins of consistency to Hamlet’s character which will also be discussed.
The Hamlet we are introduced to at the start of the play is confused, disillusioned, and a shadow of his former self. He even dresses as a shadow, suited in black clothing he still griefs for his father despite his mother begging him to “cast thy nighted colour off.” Soon after Hamlet, who is ever vigilant on the use of language, jumps on the word “seem” that Gertrude uses, in which he argues that he “know not seems” but is genuinely grieving (Andrews 2014). This brief rebuke is an important introductory point to Hamlet’s character for it founds a basis for his basic honesty which he displays in his heartfelt soliloquies throughout Hamlet – and it is also an ironic one in that Hamlet is doubted when he displayed his grief truly and openly but then believed without challenge when he perpetrates his false madness.

His grief is exacerbated by the apparent “o’erhasty marriage” between Gertrude and Claudius which Hamlet sarcastically exclaims that that “the funeral baked-meats / Did coldly furnish forth the marriage tables.” We see the true extent of his depression and disillusionment in the immediately felts succeeding soliloquy (I ii 129) and the famous “To be…” soliloquy (III i 56). In the former, he establishes his perspective of the world, which he sees as “weary, stale, flat and unprofitable” and expresses his view on women as being the embodiment of “frailty.” In the latter, Hamlet elaborates on his role in this “sea of troubles” in which he can “take arms against“ or “suffer the arrows of fortune”, though the choice has no real consequence since both paths lead to the same end: “to die, to sleep.” This Hamlet is deep in melancholy both before and after the Ghost appears but we do see brief yet bright glimpses of a previously passionate person (Bradley 1991). When the players arrive in Elsinore, Hamlet’s energetic remarks and open joy cut through his sorrow and façade of madness as he bids them welcome and asks for “a passionate speech.” Another source of this joy is the possibility of coherent action towards avenging his father, finally he can make a proper strike wherein he can “catch the conscience of the king” and also protect his own moral nature being confirming the truth in Ghost who he suspects could be a devil assuming “a pleasing shape.”
Hamlet is repeatedly described as “transformed” and described by several characters as being previously a passionate scholar at Wittenberg, logic dictates if his state of mind changed from external events of his father’s death and uncle’s usurpation then it can once again change in the future. A primary example is Hamlet himself expresses his change of behaviour when he witnesses the passing army of Fortinbras (IIII iv, 30), moved by the soldier’s willingness to sacrifice themselves “when honour’s at the stake” despite their call to action being the defence of land “which is not tomb enough and continent / To hide the slain.” Hamlet resolves that the call to action can be as thin as “an egg-shell” then considers all the dishonour that he has suffered and feels shame at his inaction where he concludes that from now on his “thoughts be bloody or be nothing worth.” This soliloquy provides valuable insight into the changed Hamlet that will return from the pirates. Evidence of this change being more than mere ‘talk’ as the proposition suggests is found in his conversations with Horatio in which he admits that he has sent Rosencrantz and Guildenstern to their deaths and feels no remorse for “for his old schoolfriends” that Hamlet expresses “are not near my conscience” (Bradley 1991). This point is further conveyed when he also reflects, with no remorse, on the thought of violence in the duel, even if that violence means his death. He states to Horatio that “there is special providence in the fall of a sparrow,” reflecting his new found faith that even the smallest of actions have been moved by the divine hand, and are part of an overarching plan or in other words “a divinity that shapes our ends.” Previously he held the attitude that the world was as disordered as “an unweeded garden” but now shows a marked difference saying to Horatio:

If it be not to come, it will be now.
If it be not now, yet it will come – the readiness is all.

And once again he proves his words true and carries out the dual to its terrible end.

However, this is not to argue that Hamlet has changed to become completely numb or heartless, even after his encounter with Fortinbras’ soldiers and the pirates he still holds a consistent sensitivity to life. By Ophelia’s grave Hamlet argues with Laertes that he “loved Ophelia” more than “forty thousand brothers could”, showing his previous ranting to Ophelia that she take herself to a “nunnery” was part of his false madness, or as Bradley argues, a symptom of his melancholy (1991). Further evidence that points to this conclusion can be found just previous to the graveside fight as Hamlet mournfully reminisces on “poor Yorick.” In this famous scene there is also evidence of a changed Hamlet who reflects on death with sadness but does not fall into the same pit of melancholy as he has before, instead here he keeps a healthy distance from the melancholy posed by death through humour displayed in his lines:

Now get you to my lady’s chamber, and tell her, let her paint an inch thick,
to this favour she must come.

Shakespeare has provided Hamlet with a most appropriate solution considering Yorick’s occupation as a court jester when he lived. Slavoj Žižek has analysed this phenomenon in modern narratives which involve an individual’s relation to an ideology, his clearest example of this type of archetypal interaction in Stanley Kubrick’s Full Metal Jacket. The film’s the main character, Joker, survives and more importantly keeps his sanity by holding onto humour and thus keeping a distance from the terrible events of the film (Fiennes and Žižek, 2016). Hamlet also learns to keep a distance so that he too can have a humour about his mortality, though thats not to say he makes a mockery of death like the gravedigger who Hamlet’s finds to be reprehensible because he “sings in grave-making.” In all these matters there is a balance to be achieved, whether it be between respecting one’s morality and respecting one’s own honour, or between contemplation and action – the thought and the strike.

Another example of Hamlet’s humour about mortality are his lines before the funeral procession:

Imperious Caesar, dead and turned to clay,
Might stop a hole, to keep the wind away.

Hamlet’s entire train of thought on kings ultimately becoming trivial objects through decomposition is especially fascinating when you analyse how he introduces himself to the funeral party as “This is I, Hamlet the Dane” seemingly declare himself King of Denmark and claiming the throne. It is at this point that I would argue it is entirely possibly Hamlet is entirely sure of his course of action; revenge and its price being complete self-destruction. I believe this to be the crux of Hamlet’s tragedy, he finally became spiritually and morally equipped to combat against the evil agents of his life but his true “transformation” comes too late his devils have grown powerful in his inaction towards them. Like God said to Cain after his failed sacrifice, “And if you do not do well, sin lies at the door” (Genesis 4:7) Hamlet also has failed to make the correct sacrifices in his life – failing to choose sacrificing his moral high ground or his honour. Thus the price for revenge is his own destruction, which he walks to as willingly as Fortinbras’ soldiers marking himself not only as a hero among men – but this is also separates him from a being just a hero and upholds him as a tragic hero (Crawford 2015).

In conclusion, Hamlet finally achieves that balanced state he respects so much in Horatio “Whose blood and judgment are so well commingled”, a perfect balance between stoic judgement, Christian charity and spirit of violence to defend one’s honour. Of course, even without hearing the soliloquies and ‘talk’ spoken by the titular character of Hamlet, we would still be able to find a compelling progressing character in his actions. And despite his deception to his mother, his lover and, half the royal court of Denmark he is at least honest to his loyal confessor Horatio and lastly to us, his audience, the loyal confessors to the Bard himself.

References:

Bradley, A. (1991). Shakespearean tragedy. 1st ed. London: Penguin Books.
CRAWFORD, A. (2015). HAMLET, AN IDEAL PRINCE, AND OTHER ESSAYS IN SHAKESPEAREAN INTERPRETATION. [S.l.]: FORGOTTEN BOOKS.
Fiennes, S. and Žižek, S. (2016). The pervert’s guide to ideology. 1st ed. Berlin: Suhrkamp.
The King James Study Bible. (2008). 1st ed. Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers.
Shakespeare, Andrews, R. (2014). Hamlet. Cambridge: Cambridge Univ. Press.

The Turtledove

The turtledove at my window cries and cries and cries. I can still picture when I first saw the bird, it’s doll eyes staring up at me, a baby bird sitting next to its broken sister. It was frozen with fear and wouldn’t leave its dead sibling’s side until I scooped it from the cold ground back into its nest. That was at least five or six years ago. I haven’t forgotten that childhood memory. How could I when it sings for me at my window every morning? It is a dull repetitive song, no good deed goes unpunished as they say. It wakes me up so I never hear the start of the song and because I throw books at my window to frighten it and go back to sleep – and so I never hear the end. Despite my angry outbursts, it comes back faithfully every morning.

Perhaps it isn’t singing for me, or singing for a mate – but singing for his sister.

One morning, I wake up to the same grey gruelling tune that leaks out from my window and instead of throwing a book it lulls me into a trance and I start to think. I start thinking harder about my own life than I ever have before, with the raw emotions of a painter or poet I cut past the litter and sound that clutters my mind. My thoughts are forming some image but for now all I have is the palette to draw from.

I think about my sister, I think about heaven. I hope she is there and I hope there is a there. I dream about walking the fields golden and green, plains that stretch forever, and rolling hills. Over this hangs the eternal blue sky with brushstroke clouds and the smell of sea salt in the air. This is an image that is hard to hold, so beautiful that it blurs with tears but I can see my sister – as young and innocent as a flower in bloom. The words I witnessed a deacon tell my mother after the tragedy come back to me: “A flower bud has burst on earth, to bloom in heaven.” She is playing with the other children that were taken too soon, they glide over the grass on a summer breeze, flying like a swift, which when it leaves the nest it never again lands. Waving to me, she dances over the meadow. I run to her but I am stopped by a river. It is a raging torrent and I would be swept away but still she waves for me to wade through it. I cannot pass over.

From above an angel said, “Your sister also feared the river of death, but while passing over realised it was only a little brook after all.”

It was true for her it was only a little brook so easy for her to glide over with her tiny cupid wings. My heavy body would surely drown me, I look within myself and see my soul is also weighed heavily. My knees in the water, I kneel and beg, “Free me from the fetters – lust, greed, jealousy – that hang over my neck like iron chains, every day pulling me deeper into the dirt and filth.” I sit on the riverside and cry, my sister wishes she could wash away my sadness, to live like the blessed – over the way, where there is no more suffering for the little flower buds. The turtledove’s lonely song ends, breaking my trance. The vision is lost. I look out the window for the turtledove but only see my own weary reflection.

Did I really see heaven? I like to believe so. Of course, I would like to believe, what’s the alternative? Katherine died of leukaemia and now she lies in the dirt, that’s that – she will never smell the flowers we place on her grave, these words will never reach my baby sister and the only company she keeps is worms. All my life, eye sockets full of worms have haunted me while I slept. But there is no point trying to get back to sleep now, the sun is shining into my room. I get up and write this. Then I regret writing this because unlike the other bird stories in this book this one is of my own life. I have left the comfortable and easy heights of fiction and landed on a limed branch to become some creature’s dinner. If you be that hungry creature reading now, I offer up my heart for you – still beating and bleeding on these now stained pages.

The ghost with a beating heart

There is a ghost who haunts my house, who wanders from room to room. He has never passed through walls, ceilings or floors but I know he is a ghost all the same. He likes to walk alone by the beach, where the waves wash away his shuffled footprints before they are seen by another soul. He is not dead… though he not quite alive. He’s never truly touched or moved the world with any sort of action, neither violent nor gentle. I often wonder what sort of ghost he is: there’s no similarity to Banquo – our ghost has no taste for revenge – he has no warning to press on the living as Jacob Marley did to Scrooge. In fact, our ghost isn’t even aware he is dead.

Instead, our ghost continues to live an illusion of life. When he likes a film, a book, or an album, he pirates it. No money goes towards the creators and he has no effect on the world. He is smart enough to route the system but not smart enough to see that the artists he enjoys will die off.

His only romance is directed towards his computer screen. It all begins – like these encounters usually do – with a passing glance. In our ghost’s case, he spots a possible mate on the Facebook suggested friends list. He stalks like a lioness creeping along the savannah, his mouse pointer hovers over her profile (not yet daring to click anything), he clicks on the profile. He is hidden and anonymous behind the tall grasslands we call the Internet. He creeps down through the decades as scrolling through the pictures. Maybe he’ll put on a nice song (one he pirated of course). Now relaxed, he’ll think about life as a man instead of a ghost – a life with this phantom girl. He’ll place himself in her pictures: tanning at the beach, hanging out at the mall, lying down in the middle of a meadow looking at the stars. He’ll imagine conversations, emotional, witty, deep conversations that go on for hours. He’ll be staring off daydreaming for so long that his computer screen will go to sleep, he’ll wake from a social media-induced opium dream to find his lonely eyes staring back at himself in the black mirror of the screen.

The true tragedy is that even his fantasies are inadequate. They have pieced together limbs from different romance movies and books. He has never experienced a relationship before and so he plasters his face over Ryan Goslings or Channing Tatum to act out his mental performance. His dates have a soundtrack, they are edited, there is no filler. It is a performance which he plays to himself.

His entire life is simulated, his desires, needs and especially his fears. He only dabbles in reality and treats it as an unfortunately necessary ingredient to fuel his dreams. He obsesses over trivial games, games that are mere imitations and poor ones at that. Living life fully is the greatest game, the stakes couldn’t be higher for our lives are all we have ever had. All over games spawn from this. It’s no coincidence that men perceived as lacking manhood, such as our ghost, often play games with no real consequences. The video games he spends hours at contain safe pleasures though they are small ones and have no real punishment for inadequacy. Only when you can feel the sweat stinging your brow and the satisfying tightness of a muscle pushed beyond what your mind’s expectations, only then will you truly feel human. I mean feel in the truest sense: sensation. The most accessible method of achieving this is physical exertion: to feel your soul bulging at the seams of your body. Pain is not necessary to live a happy life but it helps.

Although the ghost who wanders my house is lonely, he is not alone. I am sure that you already have a certain person in your life in mind who fits the description of my ghost (and if not then maybe you are a ghost). In the past, they have always been solitary but now with the socialising capabilities of the internet, enclaves have popped up all over the web. There is safety and power in numbers: colonies of bacteria or swarms of locust are powerful but individually are weak. The same can be found in weak individuals you have never truly felt the strength in themselves alone but find solace in a group. In the later 20th century we called them losers, eventually, they were distinguished into punks, goths, nerds etc. Now in the 21st century, we have even groups that would be considered strange by the last century’s losers: Bronies, Furries, Anime obsessed weeaboos, and Social Justice Warriors to name some of the more well known. Good for them you might say, well you would be mistaken in thinking that. Although humans are social animals and extreme isolation is incredibly unhealthy, sometimes poor company can be equally unhealthy. These enclaves can’t be compared to supportive groups because they don’t acknowledge their insecurities and issues, rather they encourage further envelopment into their strange hobbies. The main similarities between them are their fear of being weak, their emphasis of their victimhood, and an avoidance of adult responsibilities.

If this was enough to find them pathetic, simply look at their warped ideas of sex. Freud would have a field day with these specimens. Sexualisation and fetishes are all warped from the same vanilla brand of sex. BDSM, for example, is the inclusion of pain into the world usually reserved for pleasure. It becomes disgusting when individuals who refuse to grow up also refuse to give up sexual desire. As a result, we see fandom’s move into sexualised territory. Children’s television shows are turned into masturbatory material for sex-starved losers. Nothing is sacred, not even a show as innocent as My Little Pony. These groups are distinctive but are merely minority groups of a larger problem.

Half the world seems to be walking around in diapers, dragging their shit filled pants from one obligation to another. No one’s in control or is responsible; we follow the phantoms of wealth, status and fame – led on with celebrity news and television like a donkey following a carrot hung in front of him. The more we pursue these illusory goals the further they move away, we always need more. Goals that bring real satisfaction are always straight forward (not to say they can’t be complex) and are related to survival. War is an excellent example of this concept. PTSD rarely occurs while the soldier is still at war but when he returns back to his country he finds a home where neighbour fights neighbour, ties to friends and family who bicker and backstab each other seem like nothing to the brotherhood formed under battle. These are things that allow a human to truly feel as if he is alive, sex, love, war, revenge, hunger, thirst, misery, grief, terror, joy, euphoria, bliss, revelation. I believe the worst someone can feel is depressed, to feel numb to all things. A life of joy is undoubtedly better than a life of misery, but I would rather live in misery than be deprived of any meaning at all.

In today’s society, the stakes are lower. We still fight for our lives as our ancestors did but we do not fight against the disease, invaders, animals, or savages. Instead, we fight for our lives shift by shift. We are still fighting for our lives as every person must do, however in this era, our enemies are advertisers who’re sword and shield are laced with deceit and treachery – selling us items that we had no use for before we were beguiled into spending our money. And don’t be mistaken into thinking I’m just referring to the men and women whose faces cringe with smiles tainted with ill will you see on the television with a sandwich toaster-vacuum combination, I also include army recruiters, university professors, charity fundraisers, your boss, and even your mother In this world we can be slain while breath still passes through our lips for decades longer, and god have mercy on you if you have a last moment of clarity on your deathbed – that in your final moments, as the death rattle echoes out of your throat, you realise that you gave the most valuable years of your life away with complacency.

So foul ghost, before you find yourself staring into the void — with only the memories of a settle-for-wife, water cooler conversations, and your children growing up to live lives as dead as you are – burn thy bones. Ignite them quickly else you’ll find the only mark you will have made on God’s green earth will be the six-foot ditch your family dug to forget you all the sooner.

Pharaoh Akhenaten: Eccentric, Philosopher, Artist, Living God and Prophet

The Amarna period was marked by the inauguration of Akhenaten, the prince formerly known as Amenhotep IV. Succeeding his father Amenhotep III, Akhenaten then reigned for 17 years married to the famously beautiful Nefertiti. In those 17 years he revolutionised Egyptian culture, enacting great changes in religion, art, and politics. Akhenaten also created a new capital city from which he ruled which we refer to as Amarna because of the Beni Amran tribe that lived in the area but in its time it was called Akhetaten, or Horizon of Aten by the ancient Egyptians. Amarna is located on the East Bank of the Nile, roughly 200 miles south of Cairo and 250 miles north of Luxor. The short duration of its occupancy combined with the fact the site was built on virgin soil and the large Amarna Letter collection that was discovered allow us to “reconstruct an unusually accurate picture” of life in the city (Encyclopedia Britannica 2016).

From this accurate picture of the city, we can reconstruct a comparison of life in Ancient Egypt before, during and after, Akhenaten. The most marked difference was seen in Akhenaten’s religious revolution which replaced the traditional polytheistic religion centred on Amun-Ra with a new semi-monotheistic religion that worshipped Aten above all over gods (David 1998, 125). Amun-Ra had been the customary cult of choice for the royal family and a great many temples were located in Thebes, which may have been one of the motivations for the construction of Akhetaten. Unlike the other traditional Egyptian’s Gods who took on anthropomorphic forms, Aten was seen as a solar deity above mere Gods and whose form was represented by the sun whose rays extended downwards ending in hands reaching down from the heavens.

Figure 1: Akhenaten, Nefertiti, and their daughters under Aten (Kemp 1992, 282)

It was not unusual for a pharaoh to associate himself with a certain God, however, Akhenaten was the first to proclaim himself the living embodiment of a God proclaiming himself as “the dazzling Aten” (Van Dijk 2004, 276). Some scholars have even compared Akhenaten’s relationship to Aten to Jesus Christ’s relationship to God supporting their argument with Akhenaten’s self-descriptions of being “Thine only son that came forth from thy body” and “the eternal son that came forth from the Sun-Disc” (Redford 1987). I would reject these notions as leaping to conclusions, as Redford concludes “there is little or no evidence to support the notion that Akhenaten was a progenitor of the full-blown monotheism that we find in the Bible” (1996). Perhaps there is a possibility in the speculations of Sigmund Freud that Akhenaten, like Moses, was striving to for a completely monotheistic religion but ultimately the Egyptian people rejected the cult of Aten unlike Judaism (112, 1939). Despite the full measure’s Akhenaten took to distance the Egyptian people from the old religion, it was a mere four years after his death that his son Tutankhaten took the throne and moved the capital back to Thebes and took the name Tutankhamun to reinforce the restoration of the cult of Amun and rejection of Aten. And so the worship of Aten disappeared as quickly as it had appeared.

As with Akhenaten’s other sudden changes the Amarna art style was also a swift break from the established style and was revolved around the new worship of Aten. Before the Amarna period, the style of Egyptian art changed very little and at a slow rate. The way Akhenaten is depicted in illustration and sculpture differed greatly from past pharaohs, portraying himself as an almost androgynous figure with “an elongated neck, almost feminine breasts, a round protruding belly, wide hips, and fat thighs” (Van Dijk 2004, 281). Some theories have suggested that Akhenaten may have suffered from genetic abnormality due to incestuous parentage, but I would agree with Montserrat’s dissertation of that theory and that Akhenaten’s exaggerated physical portrayal “is not to be read literally” (2000, 36). Most speculation points towards Akhenaten wanting to portray male as well as female elements in his images,  posing as “the mother and father of the Egyptian state emphasising his close affinity with Aten” (McArthur 2011, 33). However, Akhenaton’s symbolic mother and father position did not extend to foreign nations.
Figure 2: Akhenaten’s androgynous figure
(http://www.ancient-egypt.co.uk/cairo%20museum/cm,%20akhenaten/ accessed 02/05/2016.)

Foreign relations deteriorated greatly as of a result of the religious reforms in which Egypt’s concerns stopped at their own borders. Even despite Egypt’s relatively wealth and prosperity, Akhenaton simply ignored requests from neighbouring nations for assistance in their various affairs choosing to remain inwardly occupied in only affairs within Egypt’s borders (Mark 2014). Even 50 letters for military assistance sent by Rib-Haddi, the king of Byblos, which was one of Egypt’s closest allies at the time were largely ignored (Watterson 112). Akhenaton’s neglect of foreign politics even took the form of annoyance demanding from Rib-Haddi “why do you alone keep writing to me?” as quoted in Amarna Letter EA 117 (Moran 193). This relationship heavily contrasts from his father and precursor Amenhotep III whose approach to foreign policy resulted in a significant peace treaty with the Mitanni leading to a period of unprecedented prosperity and artistic flourishing for Egypt.

 

Akhenaten’s legacy is a difficult topic to discuss. On one hand, the heretic king’s memory was “scorned as that of a felon”, his religion and city were abandoned after his death (Freud 1939, 26). However, more than 3000 years after his death and Akhenaton still attracts fascination as well as inspiring many artists, writers, and musicians from Agatha Christie to Philip Glass. Whether his reign was an ultimately positive influence on religion and politics in Ancient Egypt could be debated endlessly with no clear answer. Though what is clear is that Akhenaten is truly deserving of the title of “the first individual in history” (Breasted 1933, 301). Although he failed as to manage proper relations with many neighbouring empires I reason that he eclipsed this small pitfall with the freedom he gave to the artists, sculptures and musicians of his era. For he was a man that challenged the ordinary and accepted norms of his time, to which he deserves only respect for having the daring to bring a dangerous dream into reality.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Ancient Sources

Amenhotep IV/ Akhenaten

1350BCs – 1330BCs                                          Amarna Letter EA 117

 


Modern Sources

Breasted, J.H.

1933.                     The Dawn of Conscience (edit), p.301.

 
Encyclopedia Britannica.

2016.                     Tell el-Amarna.

Available at: http://www.britannica.com/place/Tell-el-Amarna, accessed 07 May 2016.
 

Frankfurter, D.

1998.                     Religion in Roman Egypt. 1st Edition. Princeton University Press.
 

Freud, S.

1939.                     Moses and Monotheism: Three Essays. Knopf.
 

Kemp B.

1992.                     Ancient Egypt: Anatomy of a Civilization. Reprint Edition. Routledge.
 

Mark, J.

2014.                     Akhenaten – Ancient History Encyclopedia.

Available at: http://www.ancient.eu/Akhenaten/, accessed 08 May 2016.

 

McArthur, R.

2011.                     Egyptian Art: The Amarna Revolution

Available at: http://www.academia.edu/5657544/Egyptian_Art_The_Amarna_Revolution, accessed 08 May 2016.
 

Montserrat, D.

2000.                     Akhenaten: History, Fantasy and Ancient Egypt. Routledge.
 

Moran, W.

2000.                     The Amarna Letters. Johns Hopkins University Press.
 

Project Amarna.

2016.                     Location – Amarna Project.

Available at: http://www.amarnaproject.com/pages/accessing_the_site/index.shtml, accessed 07 May 2016.
 

Redford, D.

1987.                     The Monotheism of the Heretic Pharaoh. Biblical Archaeology Review.

Available at: http://members.bib-arch.org/publication.asp?PubID=BSBA&Volume=13&Issue=3&ArticleID=1&UserID=0, accessed 09 May 2016.

 

Redford, D.

1996.                     Aspects of Monotheism. Biblical Archeology Review.
 

Rosalie D.

1998.                     Handbook to Life in Ancient Egypt. Facts on File Inc.
 

Van Dijk, J.

2004.                     The Amarna Period And The Later New Kingdom. The Oxford History Of Ancient

Egypt. Ian Shaw. 1st ed. Oxford University Press, 2004. Pg. 272-287.
 

Watterson, B.

1997.                     The Egyptians (Peoples of Africa). 1st Edition. Wiley-Blackwell.

 

 

 

Photojournalism Scandal: The power of a thousand words

The visual medium has always been more striking at first glance than text. Likewise extra attention is given more to scandals compared to the daily reported stories which make up the nightly news. With that in mind, it’s no surprise that scandal and photojournalism have developed a deeply intertwined relationship. Photographs of scandals have the power to capture the attentions of thousands, which is why they have often been used as blackmail. This audience attracting power is not only used by tabloid publications but also by most forms of mainstream media. A common example is a celebrity who is held in high regard and the scandal comes as a shock (although we are often filled with glee at their downfall) because it is a massive contradiction to what we thought we knew about the individual. The subject doesn’t have to exclusively be a person however; the important point is the information is a new contradiction with a shock factor attached. Scandals spread like gossip, when you receive information that goes against the commonly held notions of the gals at the hairdressers/bros at the gym, you are prompted to inform them of their fresh ignorance (probably with considerable glee as well). This in turn spreads the story further without the media spending another cent. Brilliant.

Only it’s not so brilliant when the scandal is focused on the media itself, as seen from Adnan Hajj Controversy or “Reutersgate” in which a photo of an airstrike on Beirut during the 2006 Israel-Lebanon Conflict was found to have been digitally altered as exposed by watchdog blogger Charles Johnson (2006). Johnson pointed out the smoke billowing out of city in the photo had clearly been enlarged and manipulated to appear darker and several buildings were cloned using Photoshop “in an obvious manner” (2006). The image of the sky polluted of dark smoke bellowing out of the airstrike site is eerily reminiscent of iconic and World Press Awarded pictures taken of the 9/11 terror attacks by Robert Clark (2011).

reuters.600.jpg

Whether this resemblance was intentional or not, the altered photograph paints a significantly more devastated looking scene when compared to the true original. This is not the first time a photograph has been digitally altered to present a darker version of reality. In the aftermath of O.J Simpson’s 1994 arrest TIME Magazine infamously published a doctored mug shot that had been darkened to appear more menacing and to arguably emphasis Simpson’s race (Carmody 1994).

In cases like these, it appears the desire for a ‘new contradiction’ has overcome the integrity of an opportunistic photojournalist. The advent of Photoshop and digital photographing technology has opened many doors for photography but also provided greater temptation and ease for those wanting to tamper their photos. Plenty of photographers use Photoshop to change colouring and lighting in slight ways in order to improve their photos. However here Adnan went further than just enhancing aesthetic qualities and had ventured into changing the meaning of the photograph. Consequently, an apology was made and freelance photographer Adnan Hajj’s employment at Reuters was terminated (NBC News 2006).

Following the logic of ‘where there’s smoke, there’s fire’ the rest of Hajj’s Israel-Lebanon photos were then placed under scrutiny. It was revealed he had used Photoshop to manipulate another photograph of an Israeli fighter jet which he manipulated into appearing as if it was firing “missiles during an airstrike” when it was in fact deploying a defensive flare (Malkin 2006). Further controversy erupted surrounding Adnan’s photos of the “Green Helmet Man” posing as a rescue worker parading around dead children for the press. Once again the blogosphere cut through Reuter’s statement that “[we] have rejected all allegations that the photographs were staged” (ABC 2006) with video evidence revealing him as Salam Daher, an actor and director of gruesome Hezbollah propaganda whom had been operating since 1996 (ZT 2006).  And although it’s unclear whether Adnan or Reuters were aware of this or simply willing dupes they cannot excused for participating in the creation of pro-jihadist propaganda.

In grim irony, Adnan’s photos would be attractive to Hezbollah for the same shock factor that got them published by Reuters in the first place. And so it appears the common scaremongering which modern audiences have come to expect from the media was hiding Reuter’s darker secret; warmongering. Fanning the flames of war is immoral in any context but is especially despicable when it is done for profit. Images are powerful tools: from Che Guevara to Uncle Sam, pictures have influenced vast amounts of people to violence. Reuters are equally contemptible as the arms dealers who sell weapons to radical groups such as Hezbollah. The pen may be mightier than the sword, but a camera’s power rivals both of them and this is not a power to be meddled with. Absolute objectivity and ethical standards need to be upheld by photojournalists. Bloggers and citizen journalists can only do so much, serious action needs to be taken to extinguish this exploitation, especially when the stakes are life or death.

Over 1400 civilians were killed in the 2006 Lebanon-Israel conflict (Frisk 2006). Will the next Middle Eastern conflict be exacerbated by the media due to exploitive voyeurism and scaremongering? And if so how many more people will die as a result? Questions of exploitation have always surrounded photojournalism that focuses on war and humanitarian disasters. For some the accusations were too much, Kevin Carter who won “the Pulitzer prize for his disturbing photograph of a Sudanese child being stalked by a vulture” (Neal 2016) and then killed himself that same year. Many were angered that he didn’t help the starving child himself and questioned if the real vulture was actually behind the lens.

The vulture and the little girl

This view is far too cynical. We could say the same of doctors who make their living off the suffering of others despite them being revered in our culture. And like doctors, photojournalists have a commitment to maintaining the health, not of the body, but of society’s conscious. There is no point denying that life has its shocks and scandals, however from the overwhelming evidence it is clear that Reuters and Adnan Hajj have truly broken their own Hippocratic Oaths. Photojournalism does have the potential to inform, inspire, and influence the world in a positive manner. That is, as long as it resists the disease of sensationalism and fabrication of scandals.

References:

ABC.. 2006. Reuters drops freelance Lebanese photographer over image. [ONLINE] Available at: http://www.abc.net.au/news/2006-08-07/reuters-drops-freelance-lebanese-photographer-over/1232104. [Accessed 20 April 2016].

Carmody, Deirdre. 1994. Time Responds to Criticism Over Simpson Cover. [ONLINE] Available at: http://www.nytimes.com/1994/06/25/us/time-responds-to-criticism-over-simpson-cover.html [Accessed 22 April 2016].

Clark, Rob. 2011. From my roof on 9-11. [ONLINE] Available at: http://www.burnmagazine.org/in-the-spotlight/2011/09/from-my-roof-by-rob-clarkinstitute/. [Accessed 22 April 2016].

Estrin, James. 2014. Truth and Consequences for a War Photographer . [ONLINE] Available at: http://lens.blogs.nytimes.com/2014/01/24/truth-and-consequences-for-a-war-photographer/. [Accessed 18 April 2016].

Frisk, Robert.2006. Lebanon Death Toll Hits 1,300. (August 17, 2006) The Independent. [Accessed 19 April 2016].

Johnson, Charles. 2016. Reuters Doctoring Photos from Beirut? – Little Green Footballs. [ONLINE] Available at: http://littlegreenfootballs.com/article/21956_Reuters_Doctoring_Photos_from_Beirut. [Accessed 21 April 2016].

Malkin, Michelle. 2006. Photographer’s Exposure: Just the tip of pro-jihadist iceberg. (August 11, 2006). The Free Lance-Star.  [Accessed 20 April 2016].

NBC News. 2006. Photographer fired over altered images. [ONLINE] Available at: http://www.nbcnews.com/id/13165165/ns/world_news-mideast_n_africa/t/altered-images-prompt-photographers-firing/#.Vxw8MPl97IU. [Accessed 22 April 2016].

Neal, Leslie. 2016. How Photojournalism Killed Kevin Carter. [ONLINE] Available at: http://all-that-is-interesting.com/kevin-carter. [Accessed 16 April 2016].

Strauss, David. 2016. Doctored Photos – The Art of the Altered Image | TIME. [ONLINE] Available at: http://time.com/3778075/doctored-photos-the-art-of-the-altered-image/. [Accessed 15 April 2016].

  1. 2016. Reuters Photo Fraud. [ONLINE] Available at: http://www.zombietime.com/reuters_photo_fraud/. [Accessed 22 April 2016].

Journalism: You won’t believe what happens next!

The greatest challenge facing contemporary journalism isn’t a ‘what’ but a ‘how’.  How to deliver news that will satisfy a modern audience’s hunger for informative news and entertainment. My personal introduction to the world of infotainment was in the form of list articles.

I used to hate ‘listicles.’ And not just because of the word’s resemblance to a certain male organ. The hatred was directed towards the editors and authors who had the balls to publish useless trivial list articles among real articles of significance.

While I’m trying to stay informed on the news surrounding the Brussels’ terrorist attacks I’m similarly being bombarded with “15 ways to lose weight fast” from the sidebar. Now I have both articles open and am reading each of them interchangeably for as long as my Gen-Y attention span can handle.  By the time I’ve finished skimming over each one it is as if I haven’t read either. I couldn’t confirm any facts from either article. All I have floating around in my scattered brain is the phrase “loss of limbs” and I’m not even sure which article that’s from.

i-took-the-internet-addiction-quiz-and-i-won-371-body-image-1421884358

This story is nothing new to people use the web as a news source.  It’s time we had a second look at this phenomenon analysed and what it means to journalism because it’s clear this isn’t a passing fad.

List articles are primarily known to become especially popular on the Buzzfeed website, self-described as “a cross-platform, global network for news and entertainment” [1]. However the New York Times has coloured them in a negative light as a network composed of “algorithms sift[ing] the Web in search of viral articles elsewhere” [2]. The Times has opposed many radical changes to journalism which it has seen as threatening. Even crosswords weren’t spared when first introduced in the 1920’s with the Times publishing their thoughts on the popular word game as a passing fad which they saw as “sinful waste in the utterly futile finding of words.”[3]. Although it would be easy to say The Times needs to get with the times Buzzfeed isn’t entirely brilliant either, the number of things that annoy me about the site probably couldn’t even be contained in one of their lists.

Entertainment does have an established place in journalism. The news/entertainment segment The Project (Formerly The 7pm Project) rose the average audiences “in the 7pm to 7.30pm slot… 23 per cent of almost 700,000 metro viewers after averaging 567,000” [4]. A similar style has developed with political shows heralded by Jon Stewart and Steven Colbert which are complimented on their biting satirical analysis. There is also a demographic in Australian audiences which aren’t satisfied with receiving their news in a bland fashion and would prefer Hughesy to make a gag comparing the desecration of ancient Syrian town Palmyra by ISIS to Collingwood’s devastation on the weekend. Regardless the 6 o’clock slot and 7pm Project don’t have a combined audience bigger than the digitally connected audience. When Australian’s were asked how they receive their news, digitally lead by a massive margin of 44 per cent while TV, radio and print lagged behind. [5]

A further underlining reason why there has been ill reasoned hostility towards this Gen-Y fuelled trend is a type of anti-nostalgia. I suspect a lot of more seasoned consumers of the news may wish for a modern equivalent to Brian Naylor or Eric Pierce, in other words a trustworthy anchor who gives you the news straight. If only Eric Pierce had lived to see the internet with all its flaws and wonders, he predicted the huge impact television would have as ” the most potent force for good or evil that’s ever been discovered in the communications field of entertainment”[6] Luckily death throes of print media have forcefully flung the rose tinted glasses off those longing for the good ol’ days, now is the time for the old guard to bring to an old twist to a new flavour of journalism… We are at a journalistic crossroads where both sides of the argument are dissatisfied with the current state of news. On one side we those dissatisfied with the purely entertainment type articles and other with the bland nature of nightly report. Sensationalism isn’t the answer as it leaves both sides wanting more like a cheap high. The solution is to compromise the two, and it is something Australia has had tangles with before. Satire: coming from the word Satyr, “a Greek mythological creatures with the upper half of a man and the bottom half of a goat or horse” usually involved in comedic events. [7] Contemporary journalism precisely needs a mixed creature in terms of delivery, a chimera that can meet multiple needs at once. This may seem like demanding a lot but that is what modern audiences crave. The closest thing we had to the Daily Show or Colbert Report was the infamous Chaser’s War on Everything a show so relentless that it was taken off the air for two weeks for airing the controversial Make-a-Wish sketch. [8]  It seems almost insane that we don’t have a major political satire show considering our parliament’s reputation for prolific betrayal and backstabbing could only be surpassed by a Shakespearean tragedy.

We are at a journalistic crossroads where both sides of the argument are dissatisfied with the current state of news. On one side we those dissatisfied with the purely entertainment type articles and other with the bland nature of nightly report. Sensationalism isn’t the answer as it leaves both sides wanting more like a cheap high. The solution is to compromise the two, and it is something Australia has had tangles with before. Satire: coming from the word Satyr, “a Greek mythological creatures with the upper half of a man and the bottom half of a goat or horse” usually involved in comedic events. [7] Contemporary journalism precisely needs a mixed creature in terms of delivery, a chimera that can meet multiple needs at once. This may seem like demanding a lot but that is what modern audiences crave. The closest thing we had to the Daily Show or Colbert Report was the infamous Chaser’s War on Everything a show so relentless that it was taken off the air for two weeks for airing the controversial Make-a-Wish sketch. [8].  It seems almost insane that we don’t have a major political satire show considering our parliament’s reputation for prolific betrayal and backstabbing could only be surpassed by a Shakespearean tragedy.

Posing Julie Bishop as Lady Macbeth works on a personal level because it brings events down from emotionless and endless policy/party changes into a story with tangible characters. This also brings a level of entertainment, which is still remaining objectively true to the story that Bishop betrayed Abbott during our most recent political spill. [9] Human’s naturally make sense of events with narratives.

Contemporary journalism is changing as fast as our developments in technology. Simultaneously our expectations as audiences are also increasing with this new change, which is also bringing a new risk of alienating audiences. At the same time, there’s the prospect of a new paradigm glimmering on the horizon, infotainment which has the power to inform hold attention and retain integrity, and to get a glimpse that’s a risk we’re going to have to take.

 

References:

[1] About BuzzFeed. 2016. About BuzzFeed. [ONLINE] Available at: http://www.buzzfeed.com/about. [Accessed 24 March 2016].

[2] MEDIA DECODER – BuzzFeed Adds Politico Writer – NYTimes.com. 2016. MEDIA DECODER – BuzzFeed Adds Politico Writer – NYTimes.com. [ONLINE] Available at:http://query.nytimes.com/gst/fullpage.html?res=9A05EFD9163BF931A25751C1A9679D8B63. [Accessed 25 March 2016].

[3]  “Topics of the Times.” The New York Times, November 17, 1924, p. 18 [Accessed 25 March 2016]

[4] The Project Delivers on the Ratings Front for Ten| The Australian. 2016. Nocookies | The Australian. [ONLINE] Available at:http://www.theaustralian.com.au/business/media/the-project-delivers-on-the-ratings-front-for-ten/story-fna045gd-1226699486979. [Accessed  25 March 2016]

[5] Australians don’t trust the news – except when it comes from their favourite sources – ABC News (Australian Broadcasting Corporation). 2016. Australians don’t trust the news – except when it comes from their favourite sources – ABC News (Australian Broadcasting Corporation). [ONLINE] Available at:http://www.abc.net.au/news/2015-06-16/australians-digital-news-trust/6548232. [Accessed 25 March 2016]

[6] 21 Aug 1954 – Mr ADELAIDE’S Diary – Trove. 2016. 21 Aug 1954 – Mr ADELAIDE’S Diary – Trove. [ONLINE] Available at: http://trove.nla.gov.au/newspaper/article/58103769 [Accessed 01 April 2016].

[7] history of satire, greek, roman satire, satire history and use of humor historically. 2016. history of satire, greek, roman satire, satire history and use of humor historically. [ONLINE] Available at: http://www.nottheonion.com/history.cfm [Accessed 01 April 2016].

[8] War is over. Chaser calls it quits. – TV Tonight. 2016. War is over. Chaser calls it quits. – TV Tonight. [ONLINE] Available at: http://www.tvtonight.com.au/2009/07/war-is-over-chaser-calls-it-quits.html [Accessed 28 March 2016].

[9] No Cookies | Daily Telegraph. 2016. No Cookies | Daily Telegraph. [ONLINE] Available at: http://www.dailytelegraph.com.au/news/liberal-leadership-is-julie-bishop-the-lady-macbeth-of-parliament/news-story/139297f9dedbfe4cfa80f20e651cf74d [Accessed march 28 2016].

 

 

Memory, nature’s gift or curse?

From the time we are born, our understanding of world is shaped and reshaped. Jean Piaget, a Swiss development psychologist and philosopher, once observed that “what we see changes what we know. What we know changes what we see”.  We each have unique experiences, and it is our individual responses to experiences that mould the lenses through which we perceive reality over time. Think back to the time when you were a schoolkid, the way you perceived the world, and how memory now provides you with a sense of who you are and your current view of the world.  At the same time, consider how your perception of the past has shifted. Do you still view childhood activities such as finger painting and playing in treehouses as fun now that you’ve experience so much else? Piaget’s comment reflects how the past influences you’re current and you’re current influences your past. If this is the case, can we live in a world where we can come to a complete understanding of someone else’s surroundings and view the world from their eyes? Nonetheless, the demands of life certainly necessitate that we need to have some form of comprehension in order to avoid conflict. Whilst the disparities in our view of various circumstances will always exists and cannot be overcome, through interpretation and exposure to multiple realities as well as ability to empathise and express humility, we are able to gather glimpses of truth.

Our past experiences where we formulate own personal views and opinions shape and filter the way we view the world. As the path that we walk is unique to each and every one of us, our perception is so too exclusive to our personal individual.  In Spies we become aware of how Stephen’s initially believes and follows Keith’s lead to the point that without Keith “telling him what to think, he’d stopped thinking about it at all”.  Isn’t this us all as children, naively believing whatever out parents or other authoritarian figures tell us to be true and what to and not to do? We hold our parents hand as we cross at the intersection and only when the green man appears, believing that if we don’t it is an “enormous crime”. This is only so, until some of us brave ones decide to take the lead and cross in the middle of street.  Stephen does exactly this and undergoes a transformation that leads him to emerge from the confinements of Keith’s sphere. Instead of conforming to Keith’s control on the various activities they undertake, he does what most children at his age start to do, which is to challenge and “[emerge] from the old dark world of tunnels”. As such, he starts to take initiative like many of us do, going out alone without Keith in the middle of the night on his own little “great exploit”.  From his own exploration, culminating in his eventual visit to the man in the “darkness”, he realises that their spying game-something the young boys saw as just a game, “simple and straightforward” could actually become “infinitely complex and painful”. No single person shares the same journey in life, the lenses in which we each come to view this world with is constantly being mouldered. As you and I go through life, we constantly draw on these past experiences to explain what is going on around us.

Furthermore, the accumulation of personal experiences means that on another level, our individual understanding of particular situations can change over time and as we mature. If say two people we to share the same pair of eyes but have two different functional brains, would their view of the world be the same? Unless your one of the few people with a photographic memory, chances are you’ll forget most of even your most memorable moments. Our recollection of the past is inherently unreliable and fallible as gaps are constantly being formed and filled with stories. Our current scenarios and state of mind influences the way we unconsciously chose to remember certain events.  Elizabeth Loftus a pioneer in Reconstructive Memory states how “people come to believe that things that never really happened”. As a guest of a documentary conducted by the National Geographic Channel, she demonstrates how by planting two people with false statements in a group of witnesses of a crime, new memories are able to be easily embedded and existing ones altered. Michael Frayn in his novel Spies, similarly recognises how our current selves and experiences can manipulate the events of past and as such he creates two characters that is of the same person- a younger ignorant Stephen and an older wiser Stephen. The older Stephen who is trying to “piece” everything “together half a century later” acknowledges how difficult it is to maintain an objective view of what happened, “remembering the order things occurred in” and ensuring that it is not being “over-written by hindsight”.  The malleability of memories often means that our awareness or interpretation of our past is constantly undergoing alterations, unable to provide an accurate representation of reality.

However, despite our inability to overcome the alterations that memory has on our past and present, our life revolves around the desire and need to have an understanding and a grounding of the views of other people. Humans are social creatures; we interact with each other, communicate and share ideas and stories. Whilst a true insight cannot be attainment, through the combination of careful contemplation, self-examination and empathy we are able to eclipsing a state of ignorance. People come together and share their extensive perceptual experiences and this enables us to learn of certain historical events. Through memoirs such as Night by Elie Wiesel and raw footages, we are constantly reminded of the horrors that transpired during the Holocaust, how he described it as being “everyone lived and died for himself alone”. We are inspired to feel deep sorrow and grief, giving us a discernment of such actions.  Consequently, we as a society come to accept that the Holocaust was an event that had widespread repercussions and invaded on the lives of countless victims and acknowledge that we collectively need learn from this harsh reality so it is not repeated. Feigning ignorance to these widely accepted realities can cause one to recede into insanity.

In its totality, society cannot hope to grasp a reality where everyone is able to comprehend and view the world with the same lenses as we have different experiences that result in different beliefs and attitude. Our conscience is constantly leaving out information that may be crucial. In order for individuals to perceive in an identical manner, this quality of life would have to be mitigated, thus destroying individuality. This does not mean that we are unable to perceive what other perceive, but rather we are offered glimpses of it that can only be observed through the arduous process of careful scrutiny.  Subjectivity arises because rarely do we spend the time of the effort, contemplating every step of our life, something that philosophers Plato, Socrates and Aristotle spend their entire lives doing.