Where's the grief? Looking behind 9/11 disaster porn

What did relentless 9/11 anniversary coverage have to do with grief and mourning?

WASHINGTON, DC, September 19, 2011 — As of this writing, it’s been a week and a day since the tenth anniversary of 9/11. A quick check of Google hits for “9/11” yields 6 billion hits for the past year. Last month there were 2 billion hits, and the past week got 1 billion hits.

Quite a news frenzy. But what was it, really, that was unfolding in the media just over a week ago? Voyeurism? Patriotism? Titillation? Empathy, sympathy, or what?

The epochal events—the destruction of the Twin Towers by crazed fanatics who hated the United States simply because it exists; the assault on the Pentagon; and the heroes who stopped the destruction trajectory of Flight 93—must be remembered. Support for our national honor clearly includes the responsibility of educating those too young or those who were not yet born on September 11, 2001. National compassion requires national remembrance, no matter how hyper-secularized our society seems to have become.

Wreckage of Flight 77.

Wreckage of Flight 77.

But 1 billion news hits in a single week? And that’s only the hits we could find on Google. The number doesn’t include the hundreds, perhaps thousands of additional hours and pages cascading forth via radio, TV, and print journalism on the same topic.

Not that there’s a shortage of original material. On September 7, Moving Image Archive News reported that the Internet Archive recently created a web page containing over 3000 hours of international TV News from 20 channels over the 7 days on and after September 11, 2001.

So primary sources are available to anyone anywhere, from which they can create secondary sources with titles like “A Nation Remembers” and “9/11: Ten Years Later.” And who knows? Eventually tertiary sources will use these secondary sources as objects of study for exploring the so-called “10-year phenomenon,” with reference to the events that occurred on 9/11. Years from now, we may still be enduring successive retrospective of these events such as “9/11: The First Five Decades: How Our Nation Mourned.” And who knows what else.

So what happend to the actual manifestations of grief surrounding these events?

Grief taps energy, exhausts mourners, and leaves survivors in tears or stony solitude. Grief, like depression, tends toward silence, retrospection. A question frequently asked of mourners by those trying to comfort them is, “What can I say?” Because often there is nothing to say, nothing that can make loss right, nothing that can restore wholeness, and those who care know that.

Twin Towers, 9/11.

Aerial image, Twin Towers, 9/11. (Credit, NYPD Aerial Unit.)

Anna Torres penned a piece last week entitled, “9/11 Widow: What I’ve learned.” In her article, her grief is mostly of the private sort. But every year, just before September 11, and early enough to make press deadlines, she gets call from journalists looking for “sound bites” to illustrate their cookie-cutter “relive the day/how have you moved on?” stories. These journalists ask her young son questions like, “How does it feel growing up without a dad?” In point of fact, they don’t really care. They’re just filling column inches. At least those still lucky enough to write for actual dead-tree newspapers.

But what is this kid supposed to say?

A time shortly after my daughter died, a woman came to the front door asking if she could speak with her. I learned that she was a professional violin player who happened to share a room with my daughter during one of her many hospital stays.

Hearing that Aislinn had died, the woman began to quiz me. She couldn’t help asking, and in my grief and shock, I couldn’t help answering. When she finally left, I closed the door, as hollowed out as if my heart and soul and brain had trickled out invisibly while we talked.

Unlike reporters, this woman had enough courage and decency to call a few days later and apologize. But then, she didn’t have a story write, a deadline to meet, an aggressive editor who wanted to beat the competition in the race to sensationalize “feelings” in the current age of so-called “reality TV.”

Fuselage of Flight 93.

Fuselage of Flight 93, near Shankstown, Pennsylvania.

Sad to say, but in the end, maybe that’s what last week’s 9/11 feeding frenzy was all about. Trolling for sensational sound bites and the ratings that seem to go with them. It’s a kind of sanctioned voyeurism—disaster porn, really—the ultimate reality show, all the better to draw viewers, advertisers, and plenty of attention for media personalities and their networks. But it doesn’t do a whole lot, it would seem, for the victims’ families and friends who were left behind by this senseless tragedy.

Real compassion seems to have slipped off the radar screens of today’s insensitive, sensation-seeking insensitive media. One wonders why a cadre of journalists seems bent on making a career of forcing folks involved in the 9/11 tragedy to relive it once again at their personal expense, the better to indulge the cheap voyeurism of professional scribblers who, in the end, don’t really care.

 

Frances Ponick’s book, Only Angels Can Wing It: How to Prepare a Eulogy Quickly and Present It Compassionately, is available in paperback from the author and will soon be available online. She coaches written and verbal communications and is the writer’s block expert at AllExperts. Feel free to ask questions there, or connect with Frances at Twitter, Facebook, and/or LinkedIn. Read more about Stages of Grief in the Washington Times Communities.


This article is the copyrighted property of the writer and Communities @ WashingtonTimes.com. Written permission must be obtained before reprint in online or print media. REPRINTING TWTC CONTENT WITHOUT PERMISSION AND/OR PAYMENT IS THEFT AND PUNISHABLE BY LAW.

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Frances Ponick

Fran Ponick is a speaker, author, commentator, teacher, and coach. She has decades of experience in technical, business, marketing, and proposal writing and editing, and has won awards in journalism, formal poetry, and acting. She has also served as a consultant to DoD. Her book, Only Angels Can Wing It: How to Prepare a Eulogy Quickly and Present It Compassionately, is available from Amazon.com.

 

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