During the animated discussion Thursday afternoon (June 21, 2012) on iconicity, I brought up the possibility that a video might be iconic in the same sense that a photo can be. I mentioned the death of a young Iranian woman who was shot by a sniper, the whole incident caught on video and broadcast on the Internet.
Her name, gone from my memory at the time, was Neda Agha Soltan, and soon after a sniper shot and killed her on June 20, 2009, she came to be known as just Neda to millions of people around the world.
The New York Times called her “a symbol of Iranian protests.” This lends a bit of credence to the idea that a video can be iconic. We seemed to be debating the actual cognitive mechanics of this, the idea that a video cannot freeze an event in our minds the way a still photo does. I know that when I thought of this event, I did remember specifically a key image, that of her lying on the ground and looking directly at the camera while blood oozed from her nose and mouth.
Saeed Kamali Dehghan’s documentary “For Neda” that appeared on HBO spoke directly to the idea that this video is iconic for this event. Be aware that the video shows the graphic cell-phone video of her death.
Many of you said you had never seen the video of Neda dying in the streets of Tehran, but does that mean the video isn’t iconic? If you give the list of 20th-Century iconic images to your students, and they say they have never seen one of them — Eisenstadt’s Times Square kiss is the one for my students — does that mean it isn’t iconic? Certainly for people in many parts of the world, this video had those iconic qualities even if it doesn’t resonate with us.
I might add that if you watch the original video in its horrible glory, you will never forget it.