A Critical Discussion of some of the Main Shifts That Have Occurred in Relation to Visual Representation in the Wake of the Events of 9/11 and the Subsequent ‘War on Terror’
The events of 9/11 shocked people all over the world and as a political consequence the ‘war on terror’ was established. A ‘public trauma’ emerged after the unexpected attacks because they made clear how near the unknown but also continuing threat of terrorism is. An extraordinary situation took place when people world wide felt shocked and directly targeted by the attacks.
The exploding demand on visual media which dealt with the issue was the expression of a new function in the wake of the events: Visual representation had to assume the responsibility of substituting for the essential act of ‘bearing witness’ to help the public with handling trauma and grief (Zelizer, 2002).
Fighting a war against an unknown enemy – ‘the terror’ or ‘the evil’ – was a historically unprecedented situation. People were frightened and many wanted to find somebody to blame for the attacks to feel safe again; the reaction of the government to attack Afghanistan found support although the justification for the attacks would be proven wrong later. But the dimension of cruelty of this war and in the American prison Abu Ghraib towards alleged terrorists caused another public shock after the limited imagery was published.
Together, these two events and their subsequent public traumas caused two very contrasting consecutive world wide moods towards the US government.
In retrospect the events are said to mark a change within visual representation, particularly the representation of trauma.
One of the main shifts in visual representation in the wake of these crises was that the focus moved towards the public. ”This was curious, for among photojournalists the idea of using images to draw from and upon the public rather than to depict the events being witnessed was antithetical to what good journalism is supposed to do” (Zelizer, 2002, p.48).
After 9/11 newspapers depicted people looking at outrages, which in turn were not shown (Fig.1), like the attack itself or the site afterwards. Even pictures of people visiting photographic exhibitions which published amateur photos of the events were used. “In sum journalism itself loosened its adherence to usual norms of newsgathering and presentation to frame the act of seeing as an integral part of coverage” (Zelizer, 2002, p.57). Also, a lot of related imagery was prevalent, for example portraits of victims like the “Portraits of Grief” in the New York Times, visual comparisons with other traumata, like the one at Pearl Harbour, or comparisons of the area before and after the attacks which helped realising the change of the cityscape (Zelizer, 2002).
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However, the flood of indirectly associated imagery in press and television after the attacks was also a consequence of the limited availability of directly related photographs: There were only 102 minutes between the crash of the first plane and the collapse of the second tower. This didn’t provide the possibility of the same range of images like commonly observed in situations with a comparable political and sociological effect, for instance a war that lasts a few years.
Despite that, “these categories of depiction created a space for shaping public response to the events of 9/11 that had little to do with the aims and goals of journalism in non-crisis times” (Zelizer, 2002, p.64). Concentrating on people’s dramatic reactions to the attacks mobilised public support for the political plans of the government, because people feel safe again by agreeing on “compensatory action” (Zelizer, 2002) and uniting against an enemy. The reason for this is that recovering from public trauma needs “establishing safety” as a first stage according to Barbie Zelizer (2002, p.49). Without this the subsequent grieving process cannot work (Zelizer, 2002).
- Quote paper
- Sarah Doerfel (Author), 2010, A Critical Discussion of some of the Main Shifts That Have Occurred in Relation to Visual Representation in the Wake of the Events of 9/11 and the Subsequent ‘War on Terror’, Munich, GRIN Verlag, https://www.grin.com/document/208528