Saturday, September 12, 2009

The Media's Important Role on 9/11

I read Silvio Waisbord's "Media and the Reinvention of the Nation" on Friday, which was the eighth anniversary of the September 11th, 2001 terrorist attacks. While I hadn't been reading the piece with the attacks in mind, one portion of Waisbord's piece led me to bridge my memory of the attacks with his ideas about media and national identity.

He states that "If nations require collective experiences and shared memories, the media offer a suitable environment and resources to nurture national identities." Viewed from the tragic perspective of 9/11, I think this statement really resonates. We all watched the horrific events of that day unfold via the media. Most of us were in school that day, sitting numbly at our desks as we saw the plane hit the South Tower of the World Trade Center in New York. The television media became a reluctant window for the country and the world to see the towers collapse, the smoke unfurling in thick clouds from the Pentagon. Americans sat open-mouthed in shock as the world changed in front of their eyes.

I was 15 years old and a sophomore in high school on 9/11. Prior to that day I had thought of history as something that came to life through books or through other (older) people's experiences. Not mine. But as I watched people covered in dust running away from lower Manhattan, I knew that I was watching history being made, and the media was bringing that history to me. Waisbord echoes this in venturing that " 'Media events' are examples of those experiences, moments when the daily lives of entire nations come to a full stop to watch or listen to the same event." My parents had told me what it was like when President Kennedy was assassinated--everyone was glued to their TVs, disbelieving, but united in that disbelief through the common experience of watching the events on national television. I think the same thing happened on 9/11. When I went home from school later that day, the streets were eerily empty, and they stayed that way for the next few days. Everyone was inside watching TV, feeling a multitude of emotions, but for certain united in their grief. I think that the presence of the media was an essential part of uniting Americans on 9/11 and the immediate aftermath. Without the media, both print and broadcast (I'm sure the Internet played a role as well, although at 15 I still got most of my news from the newspaper and TV; also, blogs and forums weren't as developed as they are today), we wouldn't have had such a common experience of the attacks.

As much as we would wish otherwise, the 9/11 attacks are a part of our national identity. They are part of who we are as Americans. I would venture that the vast outpouring of patriotism after the attacks--flags on lawns, "God Bless America" stickers on cars--might not have been as profound if it weren't for the role of the media. We knew that everyone had experienced that day through the same mediums as we had. Although our personal reactions to 9/11 may have varied--there are a plethora of emotions associated with that day, and we all have different recollections of how we first learned of the attacks--we all lived it by watching TV, reading the newspaper, or going online. On 9/11, the media brought us together as a nation.

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