(Many thanks to Roger Gathman at Limited, Inc, for a very incisive response to my preceding post on the Liberty Mutual commercial. The issues he raises concerning the relationship between personal and public/corporate "responsibility" (together with the cluster of related issues of global warming which Roger discusses in a recent post) are, in turn, very relevant to Guggenheim's and Gore's new documentary, An Inconvenient Truth).
David Guggenheim’s An Inconvenient Truth (together with Al Gore’s book and slide show on which it is based) is framed by two photographs of the Earth (both of which appear twice). As Al Gore explains, the first of the two pictures
is the first picture most of us ever saw of the Earth from Space. It was taken on Christmas Eve, 1968, during the Apollo 8 mission, the first of the Apollo missions that left the confines of near-Earth orbit and circled the moon….
One of the astronauts aboard, a rookie named Bill Anders, snapped this picture, and it became known as Earth Rise. The image exploded into the consciousness of humankind. In fact, within two years of this picture being taken, the modern environmental movement was born. The Clean Air Act, the Clean Water Act, The Natural Environmental Policy Act, and the first Earth Day all came about within a few years of this picture being seen for the first time (here and throughout, quote is taken from the book, but is identical or nearly identical to corresponding passage in the film).
This relationship between the initial appearance of this photograph and the subsequent development environmental movement is an extremely interesting one, suggesting the inherent power of visual images to radically transform our understanding of the world, and of our position in it.
The ideological and philosophical significance of this act of picture-taking is developed more abstractly in Heidegger’s influential essay, “The Age of the World Picture,” in which he argues that it is precisely this ability to conceptually the world (as a picture) which is one of the defining qualities of the “modern age”:
The fundamental event of the modern age is the conquest of the world as picture. The word picture [Bild] now means the structured image [Gebild] that is the creature of man’s producing which represents and sets forth.
However, as Heidegger goes on to explain, this act of picturing the world implies not merely a straightforward act of representation, but more importantly a transformation in our understanding of the world as representable: “Hence, world picture, when understood essentially, does not mean a picture of the world but the world conceived and grasped as a picture.” Finally, Heidegger argues, this process of “modern representing” has equally important implications for the way in which people, as representers and representatives, are themselves situated as subjects:
That the world becomes picture is one and the same event with the event of man’s becoming subjectum in the midst of that which is.