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Susan Sontag was right: War photography can anesthetize

SKULLS OF DISSENTERS crushed under military tanks. Bleeding protesters dragged through streets. Stones flung, and gun shots fired aimlessly. Such are the scenes of horror depicted in The Square (2013), Jehane Noujaim’s harrowing, award-winning documentary that follows a group of young revolutionaries active in the Egyptian uprising. “If we have cameras, the revolution is ours,” Khalid, one of the revolutionaries, says, prompting his comrades to record the violence that’s all around them. Uploaded to YouTube, and proliferated by clicks and shares on Facebook and Twitter, these disturbing scenes bring to light what is not broadcast in Egypt’s censored media. The camera becomes a revolutionary tool­­—and filming a mode of truth-telling. But, while recording is a redemptive act, it has its limits. In one of the film’s many startling moments, a police officer attempts to seize the director’s camera. It hits the ground; the screen turns to black, leaving us in the dark. Without the camera, we are blind.

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