The face wound has long been a cinematic trope for illustrating physical harm. It’s symbolic of greater physical torment.We are to assume that for every cut or gash a person has on their face, that their entire being is suffering ten times over.
Your face has a relatively small surface area, and in a combat situation your natural instinct is to protect it so you don’t show up to work with a black eye and get fired because everyone already knows you’re an alcoholic. You see this in every boxing movie. Once the guy gets a cut, we know he’s in trouble. He’s now at a psychological disadvantage with the judges, even if he accidentally cut his own face on the turnbuckle and he’s kicking the other guy’s ass.
Take the character of William Wallace in Braveheart. The ratio is way off here. The odds someone could sustain that many swords to the face without suffering a punctured lung or just getting their head chopped off is roughly zero. Still, he’s pretty beat up.
Photojournalism has always spoken volumes, but in a culture where less and less people read but increasingly get their information by scrolling through their Twitter or Facebook feeds at a rapid pace without actually clicking on any articles, the face wound has taken on greater influence. Some guy with blood trickling down his forehead is now the de facto mascot of any conflict. It’s the most powerful event a cause can attain. Memes speak stronger than truckloads of information.
Yet, those who are savvy enough may be harnessing the intrinsic power of the face wound for nefarious purposes, and its disproportionate resonance may be perverting our interpretation of the narratives of certain events.
This could be any entity with an agenda, an individual, a corporation, or a news source.
Take the case of Dr David Dao, the lunatic who was screaming like a banshee as he was kicked off the United Airlines flight. The image of his limp body being dragged from the plane fairly well illustrated the situation, but the one that made the rounds, the meme image, was that of the blood dripping down his face.
Granted, Dao reportedly suffered a concussion and lost two front teeth, although it’s unclear how loose they were already. But imagine if there was no blood. Would he be rendered less sympathetic? Would people say he was faking the concussion? Would the narrative have shifted more towards, this guy isn’t even that injured, and by the way, he’s a crazy person who wouldn’t get off the plane?
It’s the power of the face wound, do not underestimate it.
While Dao had little say in his getting busted up, model and bad actress Amber Heard, someone fluent in social media, appears to have grasped the implication of the face wound.
In a move which forever forfeited her integrity, Heard accused her husband Johnny Depp of throwing an iPhone at her which somehow landed pancake flat on her face cartoon style, giving her a minor face wound. Anyone familiar with the case understands that this was a money grab and that she was lying, which is fully illustrated by the fact that she went into public with wounds that did not match.
You can just imagine her, sitting in front of an opulent vanity mirror, applying compression here, a little rouge there, fully aware of how powerful an image of her wounded face would be. Maybe she even had Braveheart or a retro Wrestle Mania on in the background, the shocking image of a bloodied and vulnerable Hulk Hogan, as the crowd cheers on their hero. He won the match. She won a large settlement.
CNN recently ran an article entitled War on Campus. It was a short article devoid of much content, but as the featured image they found a guy from a violent college campus protest whose face was dripping in fresh blood.
This network does not usually show raw footage of a cop shooting an unarmed black kid. They are not permitted to show dead US soldiers. The face wound is their strongest ace in the hole in the sense of if it bleeds, it leads.
This guy didn’t even look like he was hurt. Just like he had a really bad shaving cut. It wouldn’t convey as much to show video of a guy taking numerous body shots from baton wielding riot cops, getting his internal organs smushed to a paste in the process. This dude doesn’t even need the emergency room. But that blood!
The times are changing. No longer does a face wound project the same meaning. Its power is being abused, and while it remains a surefire tactic for illustrating physical harm, those of us in the know must learn to subvert our evolutionary reaction to it, and understand it is being used to manipulate our emotions to garner a reaction, just like it did in Rocky and Braveheart and any countless number of productions of stage and screen throughout the years.
Social media operates on a superficial basis. Much like these cuts, it doesn’t go deep. The world is changing, steel yourself, don’t be so easily swayed by a little blood while the bodies pile up.