I found five media responses to September 11th. Here's what I think of them. If you see this as the malinformed opinion of a gushy blogger grad student with too much free time, then feel free to dismiss it. If you're capable of seeing it as a social, communicative, and aesthetic critique, feel free to respond to it, or just to give it a quick glance to see if it resonates with you.
TACTICAL RHETORIC - President Bush
"Since the horror of Nine-Eleven, we have learned a great deal about the enemy. We have learned that they are evil and kill without mercy – but not without purpose. We have learned that they form a global network of extremists who are driven by a perverted vision of Islam – a totalitarian ideology that hates freedom, rejects tolerance, and despises all dissent."
"We saw what a handful of our enemies can do with box-cutters and plane tickets. We hear their threats to launch even more terrible attacks on our people. And we know that if they were able to get their hands on weapons of mass destruction, they would use them against us."
"... the war is not over – and it will not be over until either we or the extremists emerge victorious."
Bush's words are so transparent they're invisible. He goes through a predictable series of steps: he engages the susceptible listener with empowering words, and within a few paragraphs, he turns his focus to the emnity that he's spent the last five years constructing. He makes a sharp, over-dramatic generalization about "the enemy" and he links them to the Islamic faith, and he injects a few words of alarmism and political self-aggrandization. If any single theme can be drawn from this monolouge, apart from the simplistic anxiety-mongering, it's that since September 11, America is defined by its enemy.
LINGERING SENTIMENTALISM - Rudy Giuliani on CBS News
"I'm thinking right at this minute that the twin towers used to be right behind me for the longest time, and I'm also thinking about how when they came down, this chapel where George Washington prayed was spared..."
Giuliani is the quintessential New Yorker, so he has the right to be sentimental. Unfortunately, mass media sentimentalism, broadcast over a major news network, is bound to distance us all from the event. Some of us don't have nostalgia, and don't want it... we want to move forward and find solutions. Others of us remember the event sentimentally, but when we're confronted with an onslaught of pre-packaged tragedy, appropriating and reselling our emotional response, we're forced to turn off our receptors and live in the silence of our apartments. Finally, the third group of us feels the weight of emotional memory, and Giuliani's sentimentalism is satisfying, but then we become vulnerable to the vast baggage of political rhetoric, advertising, and partisan manipulation that inevitably comes with any mass media package. Rudy should be sad and meditative. He should also keep all those things closer to himself, so we can keep them personal too. (see: entry #5)
LIBERAL BACKLASH - Keith Olbermann, live on MSNBC
"Who has left this hole in the ground?
We have not forgotten, Mr. President.
May this country forgive you."
Olbermann's words are ballsy. Such confrontational overtones are rare in popular media (see John Stewart as the notable exception), and it's almost unheard of in a major news outlet. As always in media studies, it's important to consider the relationship between for(u)m and content, so we find ourselves at an impasse: how appropriate is it to use the 5th anniversary of September 11th as a political battlefield?
Maybe it's disrespectful. This kind of political rant may come across as opportunistic and soapboxy when it coincides with the anniversary of a national holiday. It seems almost trite, and as such, it may also discredit the very valid points that Olbermann is bringing up. And creditability aside, is a day of rememberance the right day to lash out?
Or maybe, on this day when we commemorate America, Olbermann is the very image of an American voice. Once we give him credit for being right, then the pieces of his monolouge start falling into place... being outspoken is the first form of Americanism. Olbermann is offering his strong political opinion as a tribute to an important historical event, like calling out an opponent on his own appropriated, but still disputed, territory.
I reserve final judgement on this one.
META-CRITIQUE - Benefit of the Doubt
These guys are smart... in light of a great tragedy, it's always a good idea to step back and account for the general outlook. Benefit of the Doubt shows that the media is the psychological vector for the culture, and that through it, a pathological complex like American terrorism PTSD can unfold for an uncannily long time. The only disadvantage of Jesse's acute coverage is that he occasionally embarks on bizarre self-referential tangents.
PERSONAL GESTURE - Ze Frank
Ze Frank is probably one of the subtlest guys distributing digital media right now. That's not necessarily saying much, but in Ze's case, there's a mastery of form and message that you just don't get anywhere else. His video is irreverent, in a sense... there's a sort of avoidance in the long sequence of shots of the Brooklyn promenade, where you look across the river at Lower Manhattan. His song isn't somber, but it's sprinkled with relevant thoughts, distantly-connected meditations put to a funky beat and a repetitive chorus. In a sense, the pedestrian music video seem like Ze is making the event insubstantial and impersonal.
Then you realize what he's saying, and what he's up against... his thoughts follow their own form because he's not interested in manipulating rhetoric, or manufacturing sentimentality, or voicing opposition, or in critical analysis... he just wants to return to the situation with perspective.
Then you watch one of his last few videos and realize that this is the same walk he took on September 11th, 2001... and you discover that this is truly personal for him. You just have to dig a little to find that he's constructed that personal meaning from fragments of history and reflection. Whether we like it or not, it's what we're all going to have to do in the end.