Today is the age of the turbo-capitalistic nation in which the present seems a little more breathless than ever before (Nixon 2011:8). Our perceptions of the world have been altered by the advancements in our civilizations, and now the way we see certain things evidences the inequality between what we think is a spectacle and what we think is not (Nixon 2011:6). This particularly pertains to the topic and definition of violence. Nixon states that conventionally, violence prompts immediate and arresting attention that demonstrates drastic casualties (2011:3). But what about the violence that is not immediate? Nixon calls this type of violence ‘slow violence’ which demonstrates its effects over a gradual period of time, concealing itself from immediacy with a postponed form of destruction. This slow violence is often so delayed that it is only exposed in generations to come (Nixon 2011:2-3). There is thus a bias of depiction against slow violence in which casualties that are unseen, in fact, are ignored in the place of more immediate casualties. When this is put into an environmental context, we see that the degradation and erosion of the planet is of little worry to the fast-paced society that we live in (Nixon 2011:8,13). Evidences of this is seen by the geological age of the Anthropocene – which we, ourselves, have created. This is because slow violence, the violence that incrementally destroys the ecosystem, is not an immediate spectacle and we defer and delay our action (Nixon 2011:9,12). How do we, then, raise the awareness and arrest attention that forms the shapeless, silent and powerful threats of slow violence (Nixon 2011:6,10)? Nixon states that we should draw upon apprehension and we employ impacting and dramatic stories and symbols to seize the minds of the public and thus alter what constitutes the definition of violence (2011:2,3,10).
Furthermore, the following paragraphs present a photographic narrative in which Nixon’s theories are applied.
The gradual effects of toxic gas emission, such as the burning of fossil fuels and factory gas emission, categorize it as a slow violence because degradation is seen over time, rather than an instantaneous spectacle.
Image 1: Burning fossil fuels emits toxic gas – see how black that smoke is. This small amount of smoke is dangerous in itself, imagine what it is like over time when a factory burns fossil fuels like this.
Toxic gas pollutes the air similarly to how smoking erodes the lungs. We all know the harm that smoking does to our bodies. Over time, alveoli in the lungs are destroyed by the toxic materials in cigarettes. It contributes to the risks of lung cancer significantly. Slowly, it suffocates you from the inside.
Image 2: Cigarettes are small, yet they do so much harm. It is similar with toxic gas emission – it seems small in the big world, but it adds up and does much damage.
Toxic gas similarly suffocates the breathing system of the earth. Over time, toxic molecules accumulate, devastating environments, eroding the ozone layer and making the air less breathable for the population. Even worse, the emitted toxins in the air harm not only the earth’s atmosphere, but also our own bodies. We don’t know it yet, but we are slowly being suffocated by the air around us.
Image 3: Our allowance of gas emission is slowly suffocating the world – and us.
Smoking not only degrades the lungs over time, but it also proves to be an ignorant process. We smoke with little care where the smoke is going – only to feel good in the present, but in the long term, it is something of far worse effects. Why don’t we think of toxic gas emission in this way? We defer and deny the process over and over, yet as we delay our effort to solve the issue, the ‘feel-good’ processes of gas emission leads to long-term effects that are detrimental to the body of the earth. Systems, cycles and organs (ecosystems) begin to malfunction, and over time we are left with a planet that is disabled from her previous means of living. No longer can she and her population breathe the same air again.
Acid rain is a huge and devastating result of gas emissions. Sulphur and nitrogen oxides combine with water in the atmosphere and thus, when it rains, these chemicals desolate any habitat that it touches, eating away at trees and poisoning water systems. Like smoking, gas emissions release chemicals into the body of the earth and allow destruction to take place.
Image 4: Like smoking, the air erodes the surfaces of different ‘organs’ (plants), effecting the ‘breathing’ system of the planet – plants are an important part of atmospheric cycles, and if harmed, they can’t function properly, impairing Earth’s function of ‘breathing’.
The way we ignore this, we are allowing a formable shadow to nest itself comfortably over time, until soon it is too late to kick it out. We are allowing our present whims, such as manufacturing commodities, to determine the future of Earth’s body. If we continue like this, we will suffocate our planet and significantly alter her function system. Do we really want to allow our current processes to destroy her body? I think it is high time we kick the habit, before it is too late.
By depicting this form of slow violence in this way, it is seen that creating a relatable or attention-grabbing narrative propagates the idea of apprehension, as Nixon states. Therefore, to remedy the situation of deference and denial of slow violence, it is necessary to create awareness in a captivating way.
Nixon, R. 2011. Slow violence and the environmentalism of the poor. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.