This article examines images of conflict zones whose discordant affects, such as banality, place them at odds with conventional representations of the violent impacts of war. Such images pose a valuable dilemma for viewers expecting visual media to depict spectacularized forms of suffering. We invoke the intentionally paradoxical concept of ethical spectatorship—which marks the tensions between conditions and practices of spectatorship and the imperative to establish ethical orientations toward the suffering others that spectators often encounter in visual media—and suggest that banality creates disruptive possibilities for its cultivation. We argue that ambivalent visual confrontations that do not offer the viewer intellectual or emotional inspiration can provoke moments of critical engagement with the politics that motivate desires to look.

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