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Perfect Eye-Portal of Visual Ethics

There is explosion of sharing and viewing of images in this age than ever before. 95 million photos and videos are shared on Instagram per day as per data available in February 2017. Most of the instagram users are between the ages 18-29 years. Facebook users upload 350 million new photos every day. Taking into account of other internet connected platforms such as snapchat and Whatsapp, more than 1.8 million photos and images a day are shared. Traditional visual media namely motion pictures, television, video cassettes or DVD, magazines, books and MMS also contribute to increasing number of imagery world. Images, pictures and photos of all kinds force its way into our daily lives. In the society marked with permissiveness and openness, there is no border line between right or wrong. Morality is thought as a relative term depending on time, place, culture we live in and sometimes on convenience. We are more confused than ever before as to what our little eyes ought to see. Visualisation of sensory images leaves effective and lasting, sometimes indelible, imprint on mind and heart than any other perceptible senses. Allen Klein, famous businessman and film maker, mentioned, ‘It is said 80% of what people learn is visual’.

In visual communication, visual ethics is considered as the study of how images and imagery affect the ways we think, feel, behave and create, use and interpret meaning for good or for bad. Who we are depends on how we see, how we see the “other,” and how we are looked at in return. Donna Haraway, American Professor and author, summarizes the ethics of film viewing in a powerful statement, “We are responsible for what we learn how to see”. In turn, how we see the other affects the way we treat the other. Film, as a medium of mass reception, promotes, negates, and generally alters our perception of identities, especially with regard to gender, race, ethnicity, and religion. Pornography has been tearing apart the very fabric of modern society, but the problem has been made much worse with pornography’s proliferation through the Internet. Studies show that 40 million adults regularly visit Internet pornography sites. There are over 4 million pornographic websites representing almost 400 million pages of pornographic material. Painting, art, artefacts and sculpture also impact people of all ages. Paintings of different schools and ages have become craze for some even in this digital age. The world is full of “eye candy”, glamour and splendour. The eye is never satisfied with seeing (Eccl. 1:8).Youths are more vulnerable to viewing all images and pictures- static or motion, decent or indecent, bright or dark.

Many argue in favour of viewing films, television and videos (other than educational aids) as these enhance general knowledge and add to broadening mental horizon to a great extent. Some claim it is good to see them sometimes for entertainment. A study of effect of visual media use on performance of students reveals that both screen exposure time and media content adversely affect school performance by increasing sensation-seeking, substance use and school problem behaviour. Some of the movies have adult content in it which spoils the college going students; these movies not only spoil their mentality but change their thinking as well. People learn wrong habits like smoking, drinking and addiction to drugs which are showcased in almost all the movies. A few movies even have a provoking message which creates conflicts among the people thus disturbing the harmony of the place as well as the country. It also creates a distorted personality when youths start imitating things which they see on screen in real life. Though some make efforts to grab positive things of visualisation rather than leaning towards the negative ones, it becomes difficult to draw the line. However, in recent times many movies, DVD, webcast, live streams and TV channels have been made available to counter projection of wrong theme and inspire and change people.

Healthy eye is essential for right discernment. Lord Jesus taught His disciples, “The eye is the lamp of the body. So, if your eye is healthy, your whole body will be full of light, but if your eye is bad, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light in you is darkness, how great is the darkness!” (Matt. 6: 22 & 23). Satan used a visual image to trap Eve. When she looked to the forbidden fruit after being persuaded, it was “pleasing to the eye” (Genesis 3:6). King David fell into temptation and committed sin when he saw from the roof a woman bathing; and the woman was very beautiful.(2 Samuel 11:2). But Job, the richest man of the east of his time, said, “I have made a covenant with my eyes; how then could I gaze at a virgin? (Job 31:1). The Scripture specifically condemns the practices that result from obscene visuals such as sexual exposure (Gen. 9:21-23), adultery (Lev. 18:20), bestiality (Lev. 18:23), homosexuality (Lev. 18:22 and 20:13), incest (Lev. 18:6-18), and prostitution (Deut. 23:17-18). One of the temptations Satan tried on Jesus for coveting earthly power was through a visual: he “showed all the kingdoms of the world and their splendour” (Matt. 4:8). Jesus did not fall victim to the lust of eyes, but rebuked the devil with the word of God. In the power of Holy Spirit and by the word of God, we must resist the lust of the eyes. Therefore, John the disciple admonished the followers of the Master not to love the world or things of the world. For the desires of the eyes is not from the Father but is from the world (I John 2: 15-17). Our visual ethics should be based on the Scripture and not on the standards set by the world. While God’s Word may not cover every situation we face throughout our lives, its principles give us the standards by which we must conduct ourselves in those situations where there are no explicit instructions.

What shall eyes perceive and mind think? Apostle Paul has the answer. “Whatever is true, whatever is honourable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things” (Phil. 4:8). Let each one of us affirm with the Psalmist,” I will ponder the way that is blameless . . . I will walk with integrity of heart within my house; I will not set before my eyes anything that is worthless. I hate the work of those who fall away; it shall not cling to me. A perverse heart shall be far from me; I will know nothing of evil “(Psa. 101:2-4).

Dr. Nanda Dulal
The author is working in a government department and presently based in Bangalore.

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