Web Exclusives: On the Campus...
TV gets it all wrong
Watching the 9/11 tragedies
all over again, a year later
by Kristin Roper '02 firstname.lastname@example.org
On the first anniversary of the September 11 attacks on the World
Trade Center and the Pentagon, I was overwhelmed by emotion and
desperate to escape the noise. During that week I watched an episode
of The Daily Show with Jon Stewart in which the popular comedian
complained that network and cable news departments treated the 9/11
anniversary like sweeps week, clamoring for viewers using flashy
program titles, graphics, and promotions. I share his sentiment.
I find no solace in reliving the horrifying moments, watching the
footage on a continuous loop and knowing that regardless of how
many times they broadcast the images I will never be desensitized
I bought my books for the fall semester of the 2001-02 school
year on September 11, 2001. Because the date was plucked from the
calendar, endowed with historical significance, it now seems absurd
that I spent the early morning hours of September 11 buying poetry
and art books, that a checkout clerk at the U-Store informed me
that there had been another bombing at the World Trade Center, and
that I listened, the information registered, but I could not yet
understand what it meant.
Once I had carried two heaping bags of books to my dorm room,
the fact of it began to pester me. I walked quickly to the Frist
Campus Center to witness the developing horror en masse. I sat on
the floor, huddled around the big screen TV with hundreds of other
students and faculty members. Through the mediating lens of the
video camera, I watched the second plane bisect the World Trade
Center. Then minutes later, I saw the first of the tower collapses.
On September 11, 2001, the television medium was an invaluable
resource making the entire country instantly aware of the national
crisis. For once, the hyperbolic headings that news outfits assign
to the latest media frenzy "Trial of the Century"
referring to the OJ Simpson spectacle or "A Presidency in Crisis"
during the Clinton impeachment trial could not match the
seriousness of the event it described. Thankfully the titles tended
toward simplicity: A Nation Challenged, A Nation at War. The coverage,
too, served a simple purpose in the aftermath of the terrorist attacks.
When I turned on the television, I needed to first be reassured
that some new horror was not unfolding, and second, I needed to
come to terms with the physical and emotional ruin that had so suddenly
become a factor in our lives. Listening to others' experiences,
whether they were victims' relatives, rescue workers, or ordinary
citizens, proved somehow cathartic.
One year later, I could no longer seek refuge in television. The
personal accounts, the retelling in image and word, seemed newly
redundant, almost like emotional exploitation. How many times can
you cry when you see the fatherless children born after 9/11? When
you notice a police officer bite a trembling lip at a funeral procession?
When you watch the plane explode and try to wrap your mind around
the devastation? Over the course of the year, I learned that tears
are infinite when these are the circumstances.
On the first anniversary of September 11, I avoided those images
and turned to the Princeton community. I attended a campus memorial
service, Opening Exercises, and a commemorative assembly. Each ceremony,
necessarily somber, provided an opportunity for quiet reflection.
Kate Lynn Schirmer '03 appreciated that the university organized
several different types of events. "There were events designed
for intellectual reflection and for spiritual reflection. Students
could choose to what extent they participated in the day,"
The decision to schedule Opening Exercises on September 11 reflects
the tone of all the ceremonies that Princeton arranged: remembrance,
reaffirmation, renewal, and recovery. On a day bookended with services
devoted to September 11, it was appropriate that the administration
planned Opening Exercises for the middle of the day, a chance to
honor undergraduates for outstanding academic achievement during
the previous year, to welcome the class of freshmen to the institution,
and to formally begin the new year.
I think we all would have been better served if the day's television
broadcasts had turned the cameras back on the nation. Like Princeton,
communities around the country marked September 11 in their own
way. The story that the media needed to tell on that day was about
the grief and the strength of citizens in ordinary towns. Television
should have devoted more air time to the ways Americans commemorated
the event, rather than insisting we watch the all too-familiar scenes
You can reach Kristin at email@example.com