Week #1:Counter History

Hartman states, “…by re-presenting the sequence of events in divergent stories and from contested points of view, I have attempted to jeopardize the status of the event, to displace the authorized account, and to imagine what might have happened or might have been said” (11). In many ways the Jet article is doing exactly this, it is attempting to displace an authorized account. It serves as a counter history to the Times article because it is a revisiting and revision of the accounts otherwise told of Emmet’s murder. One can easily see the differences in the articles from the language utilized to the images or lack thereof. The Jet article disrupts the narrative most notably with images that offer everyone the opportunity to, in a sense, reconstruct the past by looking into the casket. 

The Times article is a censored version of the real story. It is brief and devoid of details choosing strategically the manner in which the instance is described. The title is “Slain Youth’s Body Seen by Thousands” whereas Jet titles their article “Nation Horrified by Murder”. The times article is surrounded with “business as usual” snippets of news while Jet grants this story a few pages. The Times article is guarded in its language describing everything very lightly, saying the boy was shot and beaten, but there is no mention of the fact that his face was crushed, that he was found with a 200 pound fan tied around his neck or that he was naked. Jet is the one who discloses those details and notes on the very bottom that despite rumors the child wasn’t castrated a real fear and an act reminiscent of the lynchings that were valorized in the south. The Times article includes as its last sentence the mention of Communists and if to further disconnect the reader from the reality of what occurred.

Ultimately,  Jet addresses that which the Times article would not, it revisits the violence and places it right before you. As Hartman says, “ My effort to reconstruct the past, is well, an attempt to describe obliquely the forms of violence licensed in the present, that is, the forms of death unleashed in the name of freedom, security, civilization and God/the good” (13). Jet’s article acts as a counter history because it too looks to the past for the purpose of affecting the present. Emmets murder was unleashed in the name of the “good”, for the “security” of the white woman and because of the freedom of two white men. The Jet article does very much what Hartman does to Venus, “ My account replicates the very order of violence that it writes against by placing yet another demand against the girl, by requiring that her life be made useful or instructive, by finding in it a lesson for our future or a hope for history” (14). Jet does a similar as the article revises the initial account, revisits the violence and ultimately requires that Emmet be a lesson for the future. 

One comment on “Week #1:Counter History
  1. Mayra has brought up many important differences between the two articles, but I would like to expand upon, and flesh out, the two titles of the articles a bit further. Mayra identified that the title of the “Times” article is “Slain Youth’s Body Seen by Thousands,” and this is something that struck me as incredibly problematic. This title places focus on the “body” of the victim and those who had “seen” it rather than the horrific and inhuman acts of violence which that young man suffered. This is a blatant example of the historical violence done to black bodies, and in this specific instance, the reducing of the the black identity to the body. Emmett Till is not named in the title, he is not even given a pronoun. Instead, he is a “body.” Further, a “body” that serves, in the title of the article, as a spectacle that is “seen by thousands.” In this way the title also shifts the gaze away from the horrific act of murder and instead focus’ on the aftermath of the open casket viewing, and the people viewing it. The article even goes so far as to suggest that many viewers of the casket were simply, “curios,” highlighting the sensationalism of the event and the spectacle of the body rather than the tragedy and gross injustice which beget it.
    The “Jet” magazine article does the boy, and the situation itself, more justice with the title, “Nation Horrified by Murder.” Rather than water-down the seriousness and awfulness of the murder, “Jet” uses the word “horrified.” Further, “Jet” addresses, up front, the fact that this was an outright “murder.” The title does not dehumanize the victim by sensationalizing the beaten corpse, but instead it signals to the reader that there has been a murder that was grossly unjust and unquestionably horrific.
    While the content of an article is, obviously, where the bulk of a story is, (and Mayra has done a good job of fleshing that out), the title is incredibly important in framing how a person reads the article. In the case of the “Times” title, a reader would prepare themselves to read about the display of some unnamed body, while in the case of the “Jet” article, a reader should expect to read a story about an act of murder. Titles have the ability to change the way a person reads an article and can alter or frame perspective. Thus, in this instance, there was a huge misstep in the titling of the “Times” piece.

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