Collective grief porn

Ok so.

I’ve been away again. Last time I was away I was still hooked into the news thanks to hotels providing a veritable saline drip of wi-fi and satellite news to watch.

This time it was different. It was all cold turkey and low-tech titbits. The TV broke in the first few days of my holiday and with it went virtually all connections to what was happening in the world. Ironically I was as geographically as close to Tripoli as I’ve ever been but I had fuck all idea about what was going on there. The only news I saw for a week was a Daily Express front page predicting that the UK would be wiped off the map by a hurricane so big that even God didn’t know what to call it! No changes there then.

Mind you cold turkey isn’t how I’d describe a holiday without news. It was more like warm turkey with stuffing and trimmings. I was liberated. After a week where I’d taken such a beating in my job that I’d been receiving actual HATE MAIL I revelled in being cut off from everything. I did what I’m supposed to do on holiday. I swam in the sea, read a book, saw some sights and ate and drank well.

This is some of the more polite abuse I've been receiving

Besides. Before I left I knew how last week was panning out newswise and I wanted no part of it. Just a shame I got back in time to be subject to the big finale.

I’m talking about the tenth anniversary of ‘9/11’. An event so big that coverage of the anniversary eclipses the level of saturation at the time. Weeks, even months, ago the press had been ratcheting up the hype about the ‘big day’. Even before I went away the TV had wall to wall documentaries about various aspects of the attacks. There’s a clue in the date here. September 11th is the anniversary. That is a day. A single day. Not a six-week grief-a-thon!

That's right. You can even buy the t-shirt

Now don’t get me wrong here. I’m not going on some anti-American rant about 9/11 – although I couldn’t help laughing when someone recently wondered aloud why they were commemorating November the ninth so early. September 11th was a real shock to everyone. A defining moment in the 21st century and one where almost 3,000 people lost their lives deserves remembrance and respect. Especially for the victims and those that knew them.

It also deserves recognition for the events it set in motion. Two wars killing tens, or hundreds, of thousands of people, destabilising two sovereign (albeit despotic) countries, further attacks around the world and the imposition of mass human rights abuses by everyone involved.

But if it deserves respect then that’s a far cry from what the media gave it. The images of those twin towers going down are so powerful that whenever I see them I get a shiver down my spine (mind you – I get the same feeling over coverage of the first night of ‘shock & awe’ but we rarely see that bit of death-dealing now). But I’m a cynic. What about emotive grief athletes who get off on that shit? You know the ones who lined the motorways after Diana’s death. Or the people who fill the streets to welcome home dead soldiers they never even knew. Yeah. Show some images of planes crashing into buildings and they’re hooked, tissues at the ready! The media know the power of those 9/11 images so cue ANYexcuse to show them. Over. And. Over. Again. Over. And. Over. Again. Over. And. Over. Again. Over. And. Over. Again. Over. And. Over. Again.

I wouldn't want to exploit 9/11 by showing footage so I'll put up this prophetic album cover by the Coup that predated 911 by a few months.

I’m grateful to say I didn’t lose anyone in the twin towers. But if I did do you think I’d want to see the moment they died being repeated back to me on an eternal loop? I’ve lost a couple of people to cancer. On world cancer day do the press run images of tumours growing and people wasting away in hospices on a fucking eternal loop?

The worst thing about the way the media love those images is that overuse will only make them less powerful. How long before a jaded public would rather catch the east-Enders omnibus than remember 3,000 people dying almost simultaneously? Not long if the press do all they can to make such images commonplace.

Coverage of the anniversary itself has been equally trite, exploitative and trivialising. The BBC treated it a bit like a carnival or a music festival, putting reporters ‘on the spot’ in various places to milk out the event to the max. Cue field reporters so excited that they can barely hide their delight as they provide stilted improvised commentary on anything and everything. I mean! FFS! They had someone covering 2,000 bikkers doing a drive-by. They even ran an interview with a journalist about how events were reported in 2001…. As if we didn’t fucking have enough coverage circulating to show us.

Coverage was painfully amateurish as anchors switched from location to location where excited reporters asked stupid questions from rentamouths. “How did it feel? To watch the twin towers go down?” … “You lost your husband, how does that feel, ten years on?” … “What does it feel like when millions of tonnes of glass concrete and metal rain down and almost 3,000 people die? Can you sum that up in an anguished noise please?”  – Coverage was so heavily milked that it was like watching one of those automated dairy farms in action squeezing every last drop from a poor cows udders then discarding it for the next. By the time Nicholas Witchell came on to give his attempt at an epic and hyperbolic account of the entire affair I was ready to gouge my ears out with the remote control. I hate Nicholas Witchell.

This image of Robert Pereza's private and person grief for his son was all over the press today, Nicky Campbell described it as beautiful. I'd describe it as voyeuristic

Then there’s the names. Having victims relatives and friends reading the names of the dead is surely a respectful way of doing things. If you knew one of the victims you’d want to be there, in that place to see that happen. But it doesn’t work as well on TV and the media seemed to use it as a fall back whenever they had nothing else to report. This meant they could cut back for a few seconds and then rudely switch over to footage of Obama walking down a street, or they could just leave people reading names for what felt like an eternity – so long that you forget why the TV is beaming people reading random names into your living room and you start wondering if names like Scuttleburger are real or did you imagine it?

That’s the problem with blanket press coverage. The problem with showing the same footage on loop or pushing picture after picture of mourning into our faces as though we were some sort of teary tissue sponging up the salty stuff for fun. It gets boring, hyperbolic and frustrating.

Anyone fancy remembering something as upsetting as this?

The events of 9/11 still loom large in the collective memory and there is nothing wrong with paying respect to the dead. But a joyous month-long media circus packed with leading and emotional imagery that almost deifies those involved makes a mockery of respectful remembrance. A lot has already happened this century and many more people have died because of September 11th than died on it. When Prince Charles bumbled on about how an act of terror designed to divide people had brought them closer together he was completely wrong. September 11th has marked a dividing and alienating period between cultures, countries and religions. The press would do well to remember that the 21st century is about a lot more than repeatedly broadcasting the same footage, no matter how compelling.

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