Philip Kennicott (Washington Post) reflects on what we might learn about ourselves when we notice that the photographer who snapped the iconic image of a young girl crying in terror after a napalm attack in Viet Nam 35 years ago also snapped the iconic image of Paris HIlton weeping in the back seat of a police car.
They are both photographs. They were both taken by Nick Ut. They are both images of someone in pain.
There, with the word “pain,” you feel the powerful forces of repulsion. The pain of a little girl burned by napalm (dropped by our South Vietnamese allies) can’t be equated with the pain of a silly goose who doesn’t have the basic maturity to face a well-merited and laughably mild punishment with any dignity. The photograph of Kim Phuc is about a pain that is real and compelling to the conscience, not just because it was physical but because it was inflicted on an innocent child. The tears of Hilton were due to a court order that returned her to jail to complete a 23-day prison term after repeated probation violations (stemming from a drunk-driving arrest). The vision of her weeping just doesn’t feel real.
Hilton’s pain was fodder for the national pastime of schadenfreude — an ugly use for celebrity that often borders on sadism — but at the same time, her pain could have disappeared in an instant, if she were capable of a single philosophical thought.