Where were you on 9/11?

| July 1, 2011

Thomas de Zengotita’s Mediated (2005) begins with a story of where he was at the time of the Kennedy assassination. He happened to be in a method acting class in New York City when the news was delivered, and de Zengotita and the rest of the participants were not sure if the information was true or if it was another method acting exercise. So they acted out their reactions, mediating their emotions into performance, representing their feelings in a public display. It was a surreal experience, particularly when they realized at some point shortly afterwards that the news was indeed true.

De Zengotita contrasts the JFK assassination—(which anyone born after 1955 in American likely remembers where they were when they heard the news)—with the bombing of Pearl Harbor, which people found out about through a radio broadcast or a newspaper. De Zengotita maintains that when people did learn about Pearl Harbor, they didn’t have a first-person connection to the event (i.e. what were you doing when you heard about Pearl Harbor?). Of course the gravity and seriousness of the event was understood, especially in relation to the global stage, but the event transpired on a different plane of consciousness for the average individual.

The JFK assassination, 22 years after Pearl Harbor, happened at a time when television had recently become pervasive in America. People watched the reams of coverage unfold onscreen, which displayed a multitude of camera angles and exclusive interviews, offering an omniscient perspective more revealing than if one had actually been there. This “god’s eye view,” de Zengotita argues, “is a form of flattery so pervasive, so fundamental to the very nature of representation, that it has escaped notice, though it ultimately accounts for the much-remarked narcissism of our age. The flattered self is a mediated self, and the alchemy of mediation through which reality and representation fuse gets carried into our psyches by the irresistible flattery that goes with being incessantly addressed” (p. 7). Essentially, he argues that this omniscient perspective leads to narcissim. So, where were you when X happened?

38 years after the Kennedy assassination, four American Airlines planes were hijacked by terrorists, crashing into the Twin Towers and the Pentagon. On September 11th I was in undergrad, in Florida, and first learned about the event from my alarm clock set to the radio. I still went to class where our professor, realizing the futility of discussing South African literature, decided to take us to a sports/frat bar down the street. There, we watched the event unfold in real-time, on multiple, big-screen TVs, while our instructor preceded to order shots of whiskey at 10 in the morning and get wasted. We were all participants, we were there, we were experiencing this [inter]national moment. We were all method actors in this mediated national event occurring a thousand miles away.