Elevate Difference

Missing Bodies: The Politics of Visibility

It is hard to deny the creeping, theatrical aspect that seems to permeate every mode of information and method of exposure we are subjected to daily. While once relegated to advertisements, television, and movies, the careful craft of showcasing and presenting certain bodies is now seen in governments, military, and the health industry. Why some bodies are overexposed while others are seemingly non-existent is useful in determining the underpinnings of American society and agenda. Monica Casper and Lisa Jena Moore explore these politics behind the visibility of certain bodies in Missing Bodies: The Politics of Visibility.

Upon first thought, this book might appear to be a critique of the media, a poignant peek into the ways in which the use of stereotype highlights certain bodies at the expense of others—but that topic is one that is otherwise understood, and largely written about. Casper and Moore delve deeper than that. They are concerned with the bodies that appear and disappear in much less talked about fields, such as female soldiers, people living and dying with HIV/AIDS, and infant mortality. With almost the same tools the media use to derive entertainment from everyday life, political institutions are doing the same to real lives and human suffering—and with graver consequences. The bodies of dead infants, those stricken with AIDS, and female soldiers are masked by numbers, lies, and underreporting. So how do real care, understanding, healing, and prevention begin when those bodies are erased in the first place?

At the root of the analysis is the preservation of Western ideals and agendas. By switching the concern of HIV/AIDS from a public health crisis to statistical, epidemiological data that helps manage government and secure the status of the state, there is a displacement of pain, suffering and death. The public has a harder time envisioning real people living with this disease amidst the quantitative numbers than they do erroneously understanding that HIV/AIDS is more of a disease that plagues other nations. Similarly, framing the release story of Jessica Lynch, a female prisoner of war in Iraq, as one of feminine passivity and rescue bolsters America’s dependency on gender dichotomies which fuels wars. While Lynch’s story is ultimately lost and retold as untrue, Lynch herself, and other female soldiers that suffer sexual discrimination are rendered invisible.

Lyrical, engaging, and encompassing, this book raises important and timely questions about the construction of identity and visibility in a post-9/11 landscape. In this fast-paced, technological world, others will readily construct our stories before us for benefits that are not our own. This book urges readers to question the sources, framing, methods, and presentation of information and tragedy so that we may recover the truth behind missing bodies.

Written by: Krista Ciminera, October 30th 2009