Friday, October 08, 2004
Beheading Videos: Poor Usability
Terrorist "marketing" strategy is off target.
I think it's time someone stood up
and proclaimed the Triumphant Truth:
Beheading is not
what it's cracked up to be.
"Gruesome" is not the word for it.
are much more appropriate words for
this desperate attempt by terrorists
to gain attention.
All beheading accomplishes is loathing,
and longing for more "shock and awe"
bombing of all nations that harbor
such timid and ineffectual villains.
DISCLAIMER #1: I have not
viewed any terrorist beheading videos, nor
will I ever do so.
However, I will, from a usability
perspective, engage in a critique
of this concept: beheading a person,
videotaping the process, releasing
the video to the public via web sites
and media coverage, and making
unreasonable demands based on
such vain nonsense.
DISCLAIMER #2: I mean no offense
to the families and friends of the victims of
I sympathize with their suffering and grief.
This analysis is my way of supporting them.
This analysis rightfully mocks the
ineffectiveness and futility of such
terrorist activity, which merely angers
us, and does not "shock" or "terrify"
us at all, in spite of what mainline
establishment journalists announce.
Dual Usability Factors:
Usability has a dual nature.
For a promotional or public
relations effort to be useful,
in a comprehensive sense,
it must accomplish two goals:
1. Influence the audience (the supposedly
"terrorized") to be sympathetic toward
(or frightened into groveling acceptance
of) the sponsoring organization's
(the "terrorists") goals, and decide
to support these goals, or
exert pressure on those who can.
2. Enable the sponsoring organization (the
"terrorists") to communicate an accurate,
motivational message to the audience about
the sponsoring organization (the "terrorists"),
to the end that this message is clearly
understood and endorsed by the audience.
Terrorist Beheading Videos
Exhibit Poor Usability:
1. Negative Message About the Terrorists:
The terrorists display themselves as cowards
with their faces covered up.
Like bullies on a school playground,
they represent themselves
as picking on weak, easy prey,
unarmed and unguarded civilians.
These civilians are then executed by way of
beheading, which is a relatively quick and
painless death (compared to many cancers
and other diseases and fatal injuries).
Civilians expiring in such manner should be
awarded Congressional Medals of Honor and be
celebrated as noble, involuntary martyrs for
freedom of thought and freedom of religion.
2. Undesired Response from Audience:
The results of terrorist beheading videos are:
(a) governments become more stubborn about their
refusal to negotiate with terrorists,
(b) the families of the victims hate the
terrorists and their cause,
(c) the general public is disgusted
with the terrorist tactics and
condemns their cause.
3. Wrong Tactic by Terrorists:
While it may be shameful to admit this point,
it must nevertheless be stated:
Americans in particular have
no strong aversion to gratuitous
violence, suffering, or gore.
A beheading simply is not "gruesome" or
"repulsive" when considered in the context
of the standard entertainment fare of average
American teenagers or college age males.
The act itself is morally reprehensible,
and the terrorists are to be condemned for
such an act, but its effect is greatly
diminished in Western culture.
We avidly flock to R-rated, ultra-violent films.
We abundantly produce and purchase sadistic,
ultra-violent video games.
We gleefully watch the gross
"Fear Factor" reality TV program.
4. Wrong User Interface:
The people who are most affected by a terrorist
beheading video are the friends and families of
the unfortunate victims. But the video provides
no means for this segment of the public to
interact with the demands of the terrorists.
Individuals have very little influence on
governments or national policy makers.
Even the companies the individuals work for
are in no strong position to assist the
terrorists or influence their governments.
Message to Mainstream News Media
Get with it. Terrorist beheading videos, and
news reports glamorizing or sensationalizing
such acts, are not influencing us at all.
The beheadings are not "gruesome" or
"alarming." For jaded American audiences,
they're not even "disturbing."
Quit trying to impress us with video
productions made by our enemies.
Quit subtly promoting such things
for their supposed "news value."
Genocide in the Sudan, North Korean nuclear
weapons development, partisan bias in
mainstream journalism--now these are
truly upsetting and horrific.
Posted by steven edward streight at 11:35 PM