Portraying American National Identity Media
The topic I have decided to research and analyse is "How has the media, in particular television and film been affected in portraying American National Identity since 9/11?" The terrorists attacks had a huge impact not only on America, but on a global scale due to the fact that when the twin towers of the world trade centre collapsed; they created a whole new landscape psychically and symbolically as there had not been a devastating event like it in 60 years to affect the country which led to the creation of my question as "Identity only becomes an issue when it is in crisis" Mercer (1990) and the scale of the attacked rose many questions in America and the world.
The sheer volume of media coverage devoted to the attacks and aftermath was staggering, as was the fervour with which the public sought and consumed coverage of these events. The media dropped everything to focus reporting on the attacks. Therefore, I shall be analysing a range of media platforms to compare the different approaches the media conveyed the event, the media has the power, especially in that state of societal unrest to enter the frame for the communication of global threats and crises, one of the most remarkable aspects of the media coverage by news organisations was that the competition and rivalry was put aside, and networks such as (ABC, CBS and NBC) shared the coverage with one another, which in its own right is a symbolic showing of unity whilst the attack had befallen. Television was a leading coverage provider of the event due to consumers wanting to turn to traditional news sources, in a time of crisis and the internet became more of a supplement as many people who didn't have access for reasons such as being at work, would turn to, to keep up to date. Due to the traditionalistic nature of the television and on screen effect it has there were many documentaries, political speeches, films and television shows based/ relatable to the terrorist attack. Therefore, examining these is vital so that the information obtained is from a broad scale of platforms and research, which will then allow me to apply a range of media theory from textual analysis such as codes, conventions and representation to Barthes's() semiotics to gain a greater understanding of how media had to change to benefit these identity values during a uncertain period within the country. The magnitude of the event meant that not only is there a significant amount on different media platforms but there is in-depth research and information on it, which in turn allows me to conduct a more in-depth analysis of the media representation.
The decision to research into a different range of media platforms was important, due to the information gathered in them, especially in documentaries such as Channel 4`s 9/11: Ground Zero Underworld (2007) which was about the effort to recover survivors and includes interviews with public service officers and civilians to show how it affected them from a personal level to their families and friends and it gives the public the opportunity to voice their views on 9/11 which differ from the generated opinions published from journalists and politicians, as it overall has a negative outlook on the event opposing to keeping positive and how as a country it plans to move forward. Furthermore, similar media such as television and film have been affected since the event with shows and films involving and being based on terrorism and the negatives from it, and more importantly many of these products generated include America as the affected country and are portraying America in a positive light of being strong, fearless and proud. This can be seen within recent television even now, eleven years from the event in shows such as Homeland (2011) where the American CIA are preventing terrorists attacks on America, in the opening sequences it makes many reference's to 9/11 with mentioning on sentences such as "it was ten years ago, everyone missed something that day" which leads to the first episode explaining how the lead role of Carrie Mathison (Claire Danes) is motivated by not paying enough attention to information gathered which led to the 9/11 attacks. Likewise, co-star Damien Lewis (2012) said that "It became an even bigger hit when the President of the United States said it was his favourite show" this shows the influence the show has on the country, as one of its fans is the president of the country and the show reinforces the stance America has on terrorism. The film industry in America has developed many films based on terrorism, however Engelhardt (2006) has argued that the United states has cinematically imagined 9/11 long before it happened, as one of the key narratives of the American national identity used in films is the American war story, as within this story an innocent community suffers a massacre at the hands of (generally non- white) savages. but has only be compared with the terrorist attack since it took place, with such films as War of the Worlds (2005) However, since the event a more homage based film in World Trade Centre (2006) was released. It was released in the same year as the event, to emphasize to citizens the positive aspects over the negative such as the "American spirit" which got these characters through the attack and through Barthes semiotic analysis of signs and symbols, it aided it creating a cultural belief that America can get through the event as the characters did in the films. Another film I shall be analysing is Cloverfield (2008) because despite it not being on the actual event of the terrorists attack, many aspects of the film such as panic, the destruction and effect on the public is relatable to 9/11 and its imagery is effectively recycled images of the terrorists attack, but the terrorists in the film is a monster which connotes that the monster is relatable to the terrorists attack in New York. Another media platform that had an important role in the overall consensus within America on the 9/11 terrorists attacks was the articles and journals created and written, these were the media outlets that many American citizens originally turned to for guidance and information on the event. From an article in the NYtimes (2011) "The memories remain fresh and overwhelming. The trembling ground, the wall of smoke that shut off the sun, the choking dust, the ghastliness of the jumping people - the grievous loss of life and the epic acts of heroism." Despite this being written ten years after the event, it speaks about the pain many of the American people still feel, and still identifies the bravery and valour by many people to assist and sill helping families overcome the event, also there will be articles written about if from different perspectives such as countries in Europe, who were inadvertently affected by the event and to compare these sympathetic writings to that of the American point of view of rallying the public together. Lastly, I shall be assessing speech's made by political leaders to see the difference in approaches to the media made by American politicians to explore how they communicated to the public and how they aided in the public's handling of the attack. Considering and investigating these approaches will aid in my understanding to if there was a divide in the cultural belief of the event and if this affected their own belief in the American identity.
Examining Channel 4`s 9/11: Ground Zero Underworld (2007) in greater depth is a way of analysing real people's perception of the event, which is different to other forms of media products as they involve fictional characters and scenarios in films/ T.V shows that are fundamentally designed to aid in the public's interest in overcoming the event and can be related to the baudrillard`s "hyperreality" theory which is when reality and fiction combine so that there isn't a clear distinction between the two as can be seen within the film World Trade Centre (2006) as it is about two police officers who get trapped underneath the rubble and work together to get rescued and in this fictional film it all ends with the two police heroes being reunited with friends and family, but the reality for most was much different, as in retired firefighter Lee Ielpi said in his interview for 9/11: Ground Zero Underworld "I watched them remove this person, totally meshed in steel bars, and they handled with such dignity and respect it was amazing" this shows that this particular media platform showed the event in a dark reality, but throughout the documentary there is an emphasis on the "American spirit" as shown with the previous quote a belief was created, that recovering everyone for identification was the main objective at ground zero and Head of 9/11 identifications said "It was the personal involvement of many of the searchers that made the recovery at ground zero such a success" the documentary focuses on the sole point of the bringing together and unity of the American civilians. In contrast, this documentary was created and released six years after the event took place to support the "war on terror" as Grant (2005) talked about the "prelude to war" and how coverage on the event set the grounds for war and that the imagery and words used establish links between 9/11 and Iraq. This documentary could also be associated with that theory due to it appealing from a sympathetic point of view for the victims to support the "War on Terror" and use the "Ground Zero" as a reason for war and to reinforce the American patriotism associated with the place. Following this documentary I will assess how Cloverfield (2008) is a film that reinvents 9/11 as a monster movie and employs numerous visual and experiential references to the terrorist attack. Cloverfield (2008) opens with images marking the footage as government property, then text saying "Camera retrieved at incident cite US-447/ Area formerly known as "Central Park". While, the text only appears for a matter of seconds, it establishes itself as referencing the September 11 attacks due to the reference to "Central Park" establishing the film takes place in New York City, and that "Central Park" is identified now as "US-447". One of the key relatable features in the film was the use of the element of a "pastiche" which is the imitating an event which is seen by the feeling of crowds from the monster and the creating of a jarring, shaky series of images echoing the camera work of 9/11 and the feeling of the twin towers. Furthermore, from Cloverfield, the monster is in the distance, not particularly visible but you can make out it destroys a building, and the debris falls in patterns suggestive of the iconic collapse of the Twin Towers which can be seen in Inside 9/11. This cinematography is seen throughout the entire film, with many relatable scenes as it portrays the monster as the terrorists. Unlike the World Trade Centre (2006) which like most media about 9/11 focuses on the families, especially parents and children. Cloverfield is effectively 9/11 for generations X and Y as these characters in the film are all in their twenties and living in New York, and are disconnected from their families but they all provide a surrogate family for one another. This film displays 9/11 for the people who may not have been in the city at the time or may have been externally connected to the family as friends and widowers but were left behind in the media, and didn't get the opportunity to express their grief, as the film reflects how despite people not being biologically family, people were embraced in each other's family and the pain was felt as deep and sincere as those original family connected. Similarly, from a National Identity point of view it represents that the American Identity is similar to that of a family that being biologically related was regardless as all the public had a connection to the event and were affected by it.
Post 9/11 it became a common public speech by U.S political leaders to emphasize the strength, values, unity and vision of America as a nation and Americans as people. For example, in G.W. Bush (2001) speech to address the public post the 9/11 terrorist attacks, it included these comments "Today our nation saw evil, the very worst of human nature, and we responded with the best of America, with the daring of our rescue workers, with the caring for strangers and neighbours who came to give blood, and help in any way they could." This reinforces the American identity however, West and Carey (2006) put forward the idea of the "Rhetoric of the Frontier", which is discretely but influential in the contexts for the beginning for the War on Terror as can be seen in a speech given by Bush "terrorist attacks can shake the foundations of our biggest buildings, but they cannot touch the foundations of America" the mentioning of the foundations aids in the public's coping with the event as they have been through wars before but also assists in the maintain of partisanship. Furthermore, in a later speech given by Bush (2006) he opens with the statement "On September 11th enemies of freedom, committed an act of war against our country" this links to work done by Woodward (2002) as he compares how Bush has compared America to the puritan image, of that America stands for freedom in the world, also the aspect of ideology as the attack on the country was also an attack on the idea of freedom and in essence an attack on every country that promotes the ideas and beliefs in freedom. Lawrence and Jewitt (2002) put forward a theory on national identity in the "American heroic monomyth". This narrative had attributes which can be detected in the early government and popular responses to the attacks of 9/11. Elements such as the innocent against the wicked, of a righteous "us" versus a dissolute "them" as Bush identified the culprits as "evil-doers" who attacked the innocent America of "moms and dads, neighbours and friends" Bushes political speeches both tried to comfort the public, by relating back to history of America and by assuring the public it was an unwarranted attack and as American history has shown them that they will fight for the country.
In my final analysis, the inherit assumption many white Americans share has been part of a cultural thought process of an ethno-cultural compulsion that members of minority groups are not a true American. The nation had moved considerably forward in recent years in delegitimising the idea that only white civilians of northern European ancestry can be considered true Americans and has built on the ideas of a multi-ethnic understanding of American identity. Negative stereotypes are harmful to American national identity or any national identity for that matter, as they can create ethnic tensions and alienation which prevents the cohesion of cultures. This being said, due to the 9/11 attacks the harmful stereotype's came back into fruition and have changed the representation of different cultures in the media platforms, to a more "ethnocultralism" state. The media has appeared to support the growing public policy of many people to curtail the opportunities or those who do not fit the dominant cultural type. This can be seen in many stereotype's displayed in the films and television shows that represent terrorists as being muslim, as in Homeland (2011) al- Qaeda plot attacks against the vice-president. Furthermore, Cloverfield (2008) as earlier shown is very similar to 9/11, it recapitualed the experience of watching 9/11 happen on screen from a distance also it depicts an event - a attack on New York City
Article name: Portraying American National Identity Media essay, research paper, dissertation