Following the enthusiastic publication of Muammar Gaddafi's dead face, we sensed an upcoming furore about showing grisly pictures in the media and the declining standards of mainstream journalism. Is it now morally acceptable to show the faces of the dead in our newspapers and on our television screens? Do the aforementioned dead have to be evil dictators, or would it be OK to show the face of a dead paedophile or road rage killer? Blah blah, blah blah blah? Keen to get involved, we took to the streets and asked the people who mattered. Yeah, that's right: the little people, the good old British public. It's like Question Time, but without any chairs.
VICE: Hello, Emmett. Have you heard that Gaddafi's dead?
I just heard now… from you.
Alright. They showed his dead face in the media. Is that OK?
To be honest I think showing graphic images of dead people is offensive to the majority of young people in society. You don't really want those images to be scarring children.
What if it was just adults who saw the pictures?
Well then that's perfectly fine.
Assuming that these dead pics are just for the grown-ups, would it be OK to show other people when they're dead? For example, would it have been acceptable to have shown dead Hitler?
At the end of the day, he's a human being like anyone else, like you or me, like that woman over there or like my mum at home wherever. When you think about it, would you want your parents looking at a picture of you being shot in the face? Probably not.
Definitely not, I don't want to be shot in the face.
I wouldn't want to look at a picture of Gaddafi being shot for the same reason, he has family, he's got kids, he's got relations.
Fair enough. Is there anyone it would be OK to show dead in a newspaper?
Well, I mean, some of the celebrities, like the Essex girls, it wouldn't be a crime to see them in a different light.
In a different light, or shot dead?
Well… not to the extreme that they show dictators. I think it's quite sad about Gaddafi, you know.
Well Gaddafi was under the illusion that he was a good person, because he was cooperating with MI5 and the CIA. So in spite of all the bad things he's done, he thought he was a good guy. And now… who are the good guys?
You tell me.
I don't know. It's a good question.
Yes it is, Emmett.
Lee (left) and Steve.
VICE: Colonel Gaddafi's dead.**** Lee: I was oblivious to it. *Steve: Same.* They released a picture of him. Is that OK? Lee: I think for clarity. It might be good for the public to know for certain that he's been executed. As for his supporters, I don't know. What about bin Laden, should his face have been shown? *Steve: *Probably, but then you have to worry about him becoming a martyr. What about David Attenborough when he dies? *Lee: *No. Why?! In a purely reverential way. Like how some people have open casket funerals. *Lee: *Not so much, with Attenborough being a British icon and well-respected, I don't think people need to see his face. So it would have to be a person who is considered 'bad'. Steve: I think it depends on their background, bin Laden's not been tried or anything, but he evidently had connections to al-Qaeda. Again, with Gaddafi there's been genocides, wars have gone on for tens of years… You've got to keep what's going on in the Middle East pointing in the right direction. What about Bashar al-Assad, then? *Steve: If you've started with one you've got to do it with the rest, yeah.* *Lee: *I agree. What about a non political baddie, like Gary Glitter? Lee: Definitely not. So he's not evil enough? Steve: No.
VICE: You've seen the pictures of Gaddafi, right?**** Yes I did. What did you think of them? Didn't look real did it, looked like a rubber mask. Do you think that from now on dead people's faces will appear in the media more often? Well I saw it on the Sun website, so I wasn't really surprised. A lot of other news sources used it, as well. Really? Yeah. Ummmm… Then I think, yeah, it's gonna become more common. OK. As this sort of thing happens more and more, then, do you think the media will start to cast their net wider? Yeah, I think it may happen. Ricky Gervais? No. Probably not Ricky, no. So it has to be someone who's done bad? Pretty much. What about Mugabe? Yeah, him. Kim Jong-il? Yup. What about someone like Kerry Katona? Hmmm… She's not a great mum. Not sure about that. So, the line's drawn at Katona? Yeah, I think so. Would you like your dead picture to be in the newspaper? Can't say I would. Would you? I'd be dead so I don't think I'd really care. Fair enough.
VICE: When did you hear about Gaddafi being dead?**** About an hour ago. What do you think about them showing his dead face? I thought it was pretty grim, and quite wrong. Especially as it's the first thing you see on the BBC News website. Do you think it's going to become more common, showing dead people in the media? Yeah. The BBC, I presume, are doing it because they know that if they don't, people are going to go elsewhere for their news sources. So, competition in the media could see it proliferate? Yeah, it's a sort of torture porn. Everyone looks at it, you don't want to look at it, and it is pretty disgusting, but you still want to look at it. It probably doesn't speak very highly of people, but I suspect that's just how humanity is. So are we just as morbid as we've always been, or are we getting more morbid? I think it's just ease of access. You know, I used to work in PR and we used to see lots of stuff. I remember seeing videos of Saddam Hussein, they were shared around like hot donuts at a football game. And before that, you had all those beheadings in Iran. Stuff just gets leaked. You could argue that it all started with Tsar Nicolas II in Russia, because they had all the photos of him, didn't they. Do you think it will become normal treatment for dead people other than ex-dictators? I suspect so, yeah. You could argue it's a slippery slope. People become desensitised. It might start with a really evil or disgusting leader, and before you know it pictures of dead celebrities will just be plastered everywhere. You won't be able to get away from them. Like Russell Brand? Well hopefully not in our lifetime, but there are people who will then begin baying for blood. That's where lynch mobs come from. But I think your average, normal human being is a pretty long way off that.
VICE: Did you see Gaddafi's dead face?**** I saw it in the Sun. Do you think it's going to become more common, showing dead people in the newspaper? Once the internet is involved, the tone just gets lowered. People can find whatever they like online. Do you think the public thirst to gawp at the deceased will move on from our political enemies? Will we start to see people who aren't tyrants popping up dead all over the place? In ten, 20 years, yeah possibly. Again it depends on the target audience, who's that paper going to, but Ian Huntley, people like that, you could see the Sun printing it. How far do you think it will go? If you look at the history of how death is portrayed, it's probably only since Victorian times that things have been covered up. If you go back to medieval times… You could say it's part of the human condition. What about Alan Sugar? Yeah, that would be good. Deborah Meaden? Definitely. I mean, it's basically what pulls the interest of the public. And the more you show it, the more argument there is that there is an appetite for it to be in the public sphere. Then it becomes a question of who do you cover up, and who don't you? After a while, it'll get down to innocent victims. But again, if you look at 9/11 and the things that are coming out now, you're seeing a lot of victims being shown. Although possibly more after the event, to give people time. We're in the information age, and that includes all information whether you like it or not, it's just the angle you spin. A picture can mean a thousand things, so it's how you actually publish the picture and in what context. So, for example, if Nick Clegg died, what angle could they spin to make that acceptable? I've no idea. "Cameron's Monkey's Off His Back"? You should work in the media. It also depends on who's taken the picture. So, for example, if a well-known photojournalist took a picture, would it have more meaning? Some of the most important pictures ever taken have been of dead people.
VICE: Hello Penny. Did you see the pictures of Gaddafi?****
I did. Do you think it's OK to show a dead body in the paper? Well, news is news. You have to feed the population whatever it is that they want. You're not gonna cater for everyone's requirements. Do you think there'll ever be a time when we celebrate people by putting pictures of them dead in 'papers? News is news, whether it's happy or sad. Everyone seemed to appreciate the coverage of Prince William's wedding, and that's news also. I'm sorry? It's the flip of the coin. Who would it be OK to show dead? The Queen? Why the Queen? Absolutely! I can't stand her when she's alive, I'd probably enjoy it if she died. No disrespect but she is German, do you know what I mean? English monarchy, how screwed up is that?! Half-Scottish and half-German. Half-Greek actually, isn't she. What about a politician? What about Nick Clegg? I don't even like him when he's alive, so I probably would enjoy it. If he was hanging from somewhere. You're being pretty gung ho about this. Anyone else in TV you're not into? Ricky Gervais? I love Ricky. He's English and pompous and American's don't get him. Anything that rubs Americans up the wrong way, I love. Eamonn Holmes? I've met him actually, he's not a bad chap. The Loose Women though, oh get rid of them! They look gross with make-up, what do they look like without it? Go and have another face lift, darling. Gary Barlow? I don't think life is going to miss him. But Robbie Williams… [purrs] When he doesn't talk. He is from Stoke-on-Trent.
VICE: Did you see those pictures of Gaddafi that have been everywhere?****
I did, and I watched it all on YouTube.
Do you think it was okay to show him dead?
I think it was quite interesting that it was allowed. It did surprise me that the YouTube videos were allowed to go up – of someone who is dead, being dragged around. And it was interesting that there were pictures on theMetro's frontpage this morning. It made me more interested in the story.
Do you think it will become more like the norm?
It's interesting, I saw the pictures on the Daily Mail website of the Mexicans who were all dumped and killed. I know it sounds a little bit sordid or disgusting, but it's kind of like, I think anyone would be attracted to it, out of curiosity. It's more shocking than anything else. I don't think it should be done without a reason. The Gaddafi thing is the most graphic thing I've ever seen.
So that curiosity could mean it becomes more popular?
I mean, English newspapers show people getting out of their car in their underwear. I know it's a different thing, but it's still quite graphic and revealing. I don't think it should go any further, like people in morgues. I saw Lindsay Lohan in court the other day, but I wouldn't want to see her lying on one of those tables.
What about someone well-behaved, like Tom Hanks? Would that be appropriate, in the spirit of reverence?
It would be a bit of a surprise, but then it's publicity, gives the franchise a boost. But there'll always be something they'll publish, if it's not drugs or your weight or your death. It's all coverage. I went to China once and I heard they had the open coffin of the Emperor or whatever, and that's interesting, because that's an honourary thing. It can also be a religious thing. I guess it's one of those things, would you want a picture of your dead body broadcast around the world?
No, not particularly. Obviously if I was successful or a figurehead or an Emperor or something and people wanted to honour me, it's one of things that entails it, like everything does. I don't think it should go any further than it has done already, but it's one of those things that, when the public get behind it, you can't really stop.
I think it's quite interesting because when you see body bags you kind of have that thing inside you where you… want to see them? I'm not going to slice everyone open in this park, but do you know what I mean?
So what do you think? Was it right to show Gaddafi's dead face? Would you like people to see your dead face? Let us know in the comments.