Hands raised in supplication

The photographs from Greece that have made their way around the world through international news agencies over the past few days show a country and a society in the grips of a humanitarian crisis. They show people raising their hands in supplication for a head of broccoli or a bag of oranges in the middle of the capital. They show a country where the last remaining productive activity is the collection and sale of scrap metal by men pushing overladen shopping trolleys around the country’s roads and streets.

The images are not exactly true, but nor are they exactly a lie. So what are they? They are snapshots of facets of Greece, not the country as a whole. They represent a conventional depiction of a moment, a subjective montage of different moments, a panorama composed of partial images which together do not form a whole. Putting all the images together will not form an entire picture of what is going in the country.

As journalists, we are taught that the most attractive image, and often the most attractive narrative, is that which produces a dramatic effect, that tugs on the heartstrings, that stirs emotions and is open to a quick reading and easy associations: hands raised toward the food, crowds, hunger, Greece in the debt crisis equals a humanitarian crisis.

The mediasphere constantly generates such images – images of a thousand words and little meaning. It generates reports and even lengthy analyses that focus on the human drama through the story of one single person rather than paying attention to the general picture and to the many different facets of life.

Greeks are not trampling each other on the streets for a head of broccoli.

Yet the raised hands in Vathis Square were quite real. The scenes were not invented by the photographers who shot them nor by the farmers who were distributing the food. And, yes, the hands were raised in supplication, because the people raising them are in need, many are poor, they are fearful as the future ahead looks dark, they are in the grips of a frenzy for survival so characteristic of people who lives in a crowded metropolis and they are swept up by the insatiability so often seen in individuals succumbing to a mob mentality.

We should not refute these images and we should not misinterpret them. Instead, let’s look at them as an omen of what is to come and as a milestone: as the line after which there is no tolerance, no dignity and no rational behavior. The raised hands tell us that the people of Greece are in danger of stepping over that line.

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