Cristina Odone

Journalist, novelist and broadcaster

Death is ready for his close-up: Colonel Gaddafi’s brutal on-screen ending

October 21, 2011 @ 2:03 pm

Did we need to watch him die?

I was hooked to the telly yesterday, preparing to be on BBC Question Time in the evening. It was stomach-churning stuff. Like everyone else, I was jubilant at the news that Muammar Gaddafi had been found and killed. I cheered with the rest at the thought of hideous crimes like Lockerbee and Yvonne Fletcher finally being vindicated. Soon, however, I grew uneasy.

The footage didn't just give us brief shots of the dead dictator. It lingered with over the bloodied, grimacing face, the lifeless corpse, and the stained, torn clothes. Libyan soldiers whooped with joy, waving pistols and rifles in the air. I could understand that their triumphant mood was inevitable. These people had suffered, at the Colonel's hands, the most unbearable hardships and indignities. They had experienced first hand his cruelty – or, as Mohamed Mesrati writes today, lost their loved ones because of him. They could not contain their delight in finally getting revenge on this monster.

The question I began to ask myself was: do we, in Britain, need to see the graphic images of Gaddafi dying and dead? I couldn't bear to think of children (this was well before the watershed) or indeed any sensitive grown-up seeing them in all their gruesome reality. They seemed almost pornographic: not only because of their explicit nature, but because of the way the video, taken on mobile phones, slavered over every inch, a cannibal ready to devour some fresh flesh – and the news editors, at Al Jazeera and Sky and the BBC, stayed with it. My gut reaction to this fetishistic approach to death was: it's wrong.

Later in the evening, I put this to my fellow Question Time panelists, and to the production team. Both Jacob Rees-Mogg MP and Steve Anderson, Creative Director of Mentorn TV, justified the shots of the corpse, reminding me of the conspiracy theories that will always bubble up in the wake of a strongman dictator's death: whether Hitler or Osama bin Laden, leaders who inspired a fanatical following cannot just be pronounced dead. They have to be dead without a shadow of a doubt, or conspiracy plots will grow and fester in that shadow.

Point taken. I acknowledge, too, that in a not-so-distant past British monarchs lay in state for precisely this reason. There can be valid reasons for showing even the most brutal of images. And yet those scenes from yesterday have left me feeling distinctly queasy.


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