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First Chapters
September Issue

'Each had their own personal unique tragedy to tell others of, as if to say ‘I’m closer to the real experience than you'...

A great deal has been written over the past few weeks upon the terrorist attacks in America and I have felt the emotional effect on people along with the awakening of a new consciousness everywhere. Yet I have felt greatly troubled not only by the events of September 11th but also by its absorption and reaction by contemporary society. This goes beyond the catastrophe itself, which illuminated it strongly, to the infrastructure and consciousness of the information age.

The idea of fiction and reality merging together in the 21st century is such a familiar idea, that I can take for granted the every day semblance of it within our contemporary society. For us who are not present at the scene of the event being played out in front of us, there is no immediate realisation of the reality, but instead a strange delay of emotion as we watch the images broadcast live from the scene. We watch the drama played out on the familiar small, flat screen in a box, upon which we also watch fiction endlessly. This didactic viewing seems to homogenise all moving images and sounds both fictional and real. The mind can longer distinguish between the two without some repeated assertion that what is presented before us is actually happening.

Films are now made in the documentary style: ‘Blair Witch Project’, ‘Man Bites Dog’, for example. Also TV dramas such as NYPD Blue are made in a similar vein. The idea being to give a heightened sense of reality, to subconsciously draw us in to believing the events being played out, so that we might be affected to a greater extent than otherwise. The stock tool is often the use of shaky, amateurish camera work to give it the feeling that there is someone present, filming the action live; this is not rehearsed and anything might be about to happen. We all know from the outset that it’s fiction and yet all the raw style and camera work allow for the slightest possibility of the real, and this is enough, on some subconscious level, to heighten the realism.

At the time of the event I was walking the streets and found myself gathered outside the shop front of a Sony centre with a group of onlookers, each with our own latest wide-screen TV on which to watch the drama unfold. After seeing the same image for some time, moving erratically around the screen in the authentic hand held, live camcorder style, I moved on. I was taking a late lunch and sat down in my usual café to find they too had heard the news and everybody was sitting facing the same direction watching a very old TV that I had never seen switched on before. It was stationed up high in the corner with a faded greenish screen; and I couldn’t help feel I was in a film myself recalling numerous scenes of Americans watching the news break on TV’s in cafes and bars.

Looks of disbelief abounded with chatter of ‘ I was only there last week’ and ‘I know somebody who lives only five blocks away from the towers’. Everybody it seemed wanted a piece of the action, Their own personal staring role in the film-like scenario as it unfolded before us, safe in the knowledge that is was a distant reality. Each had their own personal unique tragedy to tell others of, as if to say ‘I’m closer to the real experience than you, I’m the one who knows how it really feels’. So now it had become a competition of suffering, and those who suffered the most are the most real of people, who also therefore have so called real-life experiences, they are the Jerry Springer generation. They are the new gods, they are the ones we revere and we stare open jawed at on the TV, and in the café as they profess their real experiences.

I would like to know the reaction of a crowd, a nation, of people would have been 100 years ago. The communication timescale would have been quite different and the first they would have heard about it may have been the next day or later, perhaps in the newspapers. Without the spectacle to see I would imagine a more contemplative reaction, the silence broken only by the rustle of newspaper. No sound bites or moving live images to bombard the senses. Yet would his or her reaction have been any the less shocked or emotive, denied the sensations of live real time coverage? I think not! They would not have been confused as to the reality of the situation; there is a clear distinction between a novel and a newspaper (although certain tabloids are constantly blurring these boundaries). The facts of the events would have been left to the imagination to visualise, and this is the most effective of tools, that draw upon our own experience and dark intuition.

It took myself about two days for the reality to sink in, for the sensationalist real-time ‘smaltz’ to ebb away. Despite the fact that I was visiting a friend on the 92nd friend at Easter and, as anyone else that has been there, have some immediate sense of what once was, and now is no longer. Just a week before and somewhat by coincidence I was sorting though some slides of New York and making final selections for a series of prints. Within these are pictures of and from the twin towers, and knowing this I have thought of the images but avoided them. I have since confronted them and now I notice the twin towers presence in the background of most of the skyline shots, their significance now heightened beyond measure. The symbolic meaning for the people of New York and America cannot be underestimated.

So I have laid claim to my piece of the drama. There is something especially significant to those who have been to the place. It doesn’t make those peoples’ feelings any the more valid or prominent, it’s just that one can remember the experience and feeling of the occasion, and when I do so I am pierced by the sorrow that I can never have those again; it’s all gone forever.
A little like the feeling of the death of someone you know, the sorrow lies in the fact that you will never ever see them again, and for those people who lost someone I am truly sorry. Finality is indeed one of the most profound of occurrences; and due to its relationship with death and subsequent in -congruency with life, its realisation can be devastating.

The speed and excess of news, in conjunction with the combined use of access points for both fictional and real information, is producing an effect that desensitises us to the value of life. If nothing else the events of the last few weeks, and probably the weeks to come, will have helped us to remember something of that value once again.

© Robert Cooper October 2001

See other writing by Robert
Andreus Gurksy

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