September 10, 2003

Falling Man

I cannot remember the last time I was so riveted by a piece of journalism as I was today, reading The Falling Man. (link via LGF) I stared at the photograph for a long time. After reading the first few paragraphs of the piece, I went back and stared at it some more. How can anyone not wonder, looking at this photo, if he or she would have, or could have been one of "the jumpers" from the upper floors of the WTC on 9/11. It is an incredible photograph. The sense of quiet in what must have been chaotic noise. Hopelessness, yet calm. The bent knee. Relaxation, upside down.

The article, from the current Esquire Magazine is the story of the photograph, and of the photographer, of a reporter, and all of "the jumpers", not just the one in the photo. Do take the time to read it all. You will not be sorry.

Some of the surviving family members interviewed by the reporter whose job it was to determine the identity of The Falling Man were insulted by the suggestion that their loved one might have jumped. Some relatively small percentage of those who died had a choice about how it would happen. Some jumped. I know people who would never in a million years choose to jump. Who was "braver"? Obviously, hundreds had no choice at all. I identify with the jumpers.

The tone and attitude of the conservative side of the blogosphere in recent days and weeks has been one of incredulousness and a certain amount of anger about the media's decision to sort of take a pass on the 9/11 anniversary, at least in terms of airing any actual footage of the World Trade Center that day. Count me as one of those who believe we should see much of it again. Or see it for the first time. Yes, it was and is respectful of those who died so publicly that day to be judicious about the use of the images of their deaths. And I'm not sure I want to see the film of the jumpers anyway, much less suggest that someone else should see it. As a country, we chose not to watch, as the author Tom Junod notes: the lens of a camera, history is a force that does not discriminate. What distinguishes the pictures of the jumpers from the pictures that have come before is that we—we Americans—are being asked to discriminate on their behalf. What distinguishes them, historically, is that we, as patriotic Americans, have agreed not to look at them. Dozens, scores, maybe hundreds of people died by leaping from a burning building, and we have somehow taken it upon ourselves to deem their deaths unworthy of witness—because we have somehow deemed the act of witness, in this one regard, unworthy of us.

It would be nice to believe that the motivations of our media executives were so noble. Part of me thinks they didn't trust Americans to deal rationally and responsibly with the emotions the images would evoke. Because it is not just the footage of the individual jumpers that the major media has deemed off limits. It's nearly the entire archive of film and photographs of the events of 9/11. It is history. And seeing the footage of what they did to America that day is a History lesson. There's nothing sick or morbid, or even disrespectful of the dead, now that two years have passed, about letting America see those images again.

Posted by dan at September 10, 2003 2:21 PM