There’s an old theory of reporting (which I can’t readily find a reference too because I apparently suck at google today) which says that something on the other side of the world has to be something like a thousand times more awful for it to have the same impact as one person suffering in your home town.
Two of the most important news values aka ‘things that make people sit up and pay attention’ are frequency and unexpectedness. So if something rare and totally unexpected happens (like planes crashing into the world trade centre) it has a massive impact, whereas if something happens a lot and isn’t that surprising (like shells falling through homes on Israel’s border) no one really reacts, even if over the course of a few years the number of people killed outweighs the number killed in one shocking incident.
Also, I guess, if you’re American Israel is quite far away and New York is your own backyard. Whereas for me… In 2001 I couldn’t pick the world trade centre out of a skyline if you paid me. I had yet to ever set foot in America. I didn’t know anyone who might have been hurt.
I felt for the people involved but much the same way I feel for people killed in the Spanish Inquisition. It was horrible and tragic and unnecessary, and done out of fear and anger. But it was also being reported to me second and third hand. Which made it feel very far away. Like a story I was being told.
But it seems like over time the voice telling that story has gotten louder. The paranoia that event built in America has been reflected around the world in airport security and terrorism alertness. It changed the way America responded to the world, particularly in a military sense. And that too sent reaction waves that have made long term changes in my homeland as well as theirs.
From where I stand these are political alterations. This single event didn’t have any greater emotional impact on me than hearing stories about fighting in Nepal or riots in the UK or natural disasters sweeping coastline after coastline.
And yet… There is a file on my computer with the title ’12 September 2001’.
I wonder what they’ll call this in the future. Mum’s afraid there’ll be a war. I’m fascinated by the stories implicit in the event;
The freezer trucks that usually belong to supermarkets being called down town the World Trade Centre to carry out the dead. The firemen trapped in the second plane crash. How and who high jacked the planes?
It’s such a unique and shocking way to destroy something and it’s brought America to a full stop — stock exchange closed, government evacuated, planes grounded, phone systems on and off, emergency services as badly hit as the original victims…
It’s weird that something that’s happening so far away can invade the news and even the commercial radio and television stations here in Australia. Half an hour ago we heard singing on the TV, Americans invoking their national anthem…
There is a file on my computer because even then this event managed to capture my imagination. Since then I have heard dozens of amazing, tragic and heartbreaking stories about it. I’ve seen spectacular art that’s come out of that emotional crucible. And eleven years later it’s passing into history. My history. Not just a part of America’s story but a part of ours. In my mother’s generation it was, Where were you when JFK was shot? For ours I think it’s now, Where were you when you first heard about the World Trade Centre?