By James Alan Fox and Jack Levin
Anniversaries of tragedies too often relive horrors rather than celebrate resiliency.
Feeling deceived, Boston Marathon bombing survivor Adrianne Haslet-Davis stormed off the set of NBC’s Meet the Press in protest and in tears. Reportedly, she had agreed to appear on air so long as the names of the alleged bombers would not be mentioned during the broadcast, only to learn that the promise had been broken.
Surely, we can sympathize with Haslet-Davis’ point of view. The bombing one year ago today, in which the 33-year-old dance instructor lost her foot and hundreds more were injured or killed, was an unspeakable crime, so much so that the names of those believed to have masterminded the attack should be unspeakable. Of course, it is perhaps a stretch for Haslet-Davis to expect a news program, while commemorating the anniversary of the horrific event, would not once identify the suspected bombers by name. However, the outraged woman is absolutely right in terms of what the focus should be into the future.
Whatever the extent to which NBC and other national outlets choose to refer to the suspected terrorists, patently gratuitous are the countless photographs and videos of the two explosions and their immediate aftermath, highlighting mutilated limbs and terror-filled faces of stunned spectators. In addition to the graphic scenes of destruction, on-camera interviews asking folks to recall where they were, what they saw, and how they felt at 2:49p.m. last April 15 emphasize the wrong story, that of injury rather than recovery.
Playing up victimization
There is another downside to featuring the moments when all hell broke loose at the marathon finish line. As this stunning event is thought to be an act of terror, like-minded individuals who also hate America can find joy in everything that focuses on victimization. Better they see and hear of stories that reflect upon the spirit of the people of Boston.
“Boston Strong” is more than a slogan. It symbolizes the resilience and accomplishments of the survivors rather than the vulnerability of victims. It focuses not on the ability of two brothers to terrorize a community but on the courage of its citizens in the aftermath. We remember not only the evil act that claimed innocent lives, but also the tremendous determination of those who, despite suffering broken bones, amputated limbs, or major disfigurements, now live productive lives.
For too many in the media, it is almost formulaic to run heart-wrenching images on the anniversary of a tragedy. How many times have we been shown the collapse of New York’s Twin Towers or students fleeing the rampage shooting at Columbine High? How predictable are the photo arrays of families embracing one another in grief and disbelief?
These themes do not require much explanation or setup. By contrast, complex tales of recovery and resilience are more difficult to tell, particularly when audiences are easily distracted and drawn to negative news.
Why replay grim scenes?
It is understandable that on this first anniversary, the media would replay images of the marathon crime scene as it was littered with backpacks, bodies and blood. Unlike most other massacres, the Boston bombing yielded a large number of gruesome injuries and deaths that were recorded for public consumption not only by professional photographers but also by amateurs with their cellphones.
On the other hand, all of America knows what transpired one year ago today. The positive message of Boston Strong should not be lost in the coverage of tragedy.
For most of us, grieving requires looking back. Going forward, however, we need to emphasize also the inspirational stories of endurance, as did one survivor during a nationally televised special aired last week. Eighteen-year-old Sydney Corcoran, who was severely injured by the bomb’s shrapnel, could have been speaking for the entire Boston community when she rhetorically addressed the terrorists: “You can scar me, but you cannot stop me.”
Notwithstanding Haslet-Davis’ worthy protest, it is unfortunate that she did not seize the opportunity to tell her story of recovery to a national audience on Sunday’s Meet the Press, as it speaks volumes about how she, like so many others in Boston, were determined not to let the terrorists win. This courageous survivor, having adjusted to use of a prosthetic limb, is looking forward to appearing on a different national program — Dancing With the Stars.
James Alan Fox, a member of USA TODAY’s Board of Contributors, and Jack Levin are professors at Northeastern University.
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