On the Limits of the Virtual Humanitarian Experience
This chapter addresses the relationship between NGO communications and the rise of new technologies that promise to enhance the spectator experience, thereby raising awareness of humanitarian operations. The study focuses particularly on United Nations projects in virtual reality (VR) cinema. Following the principle of displacement that guides the entire book, a comparison is drawn between the compositional and experiential characteristics of VR cinema, the humanitarian applications of the lantern-slide lectures at the beginning of the twentieth century, and the tradition of “candlelit painting” that was introduced by Caravaggio and further developed by the so-called Caravaggisti in the seventeenth century. In developing this cross-analysis, a few answers are suggested to the main questions regarding the viewer experience of humanitarian-themed VR cinema. To what extent do these immersive devices facilitate spectators in developing a “witnessing gaze”? Under what conditions does the gesture of putting on a VR headset, conveniently in one’s own home, take on an ethical and political value in the face of catastrophic events that devastate entire populations around the world?