Tuesday, 16 April 2013

Disaster Marathons: The Boston Explosions


For anyone who turned on the television last night, it was something we might have wished we hadn't done. Aerial images of the aftermath of the Boston Marathon explosions saturated the news, and the amount of blood stained ground and juxtaposition of events was enough to make you want to turn the television straight back off.


In a brief statement earlier today from the White House, Barack Obama described the event as an "act of terrorism", explaining that “Any time bombs are used to target innocent civilians it is an act of terror”. The President was cautious to avoid using this term in his first statement following the explosions, as whenever the word terrorism is used it is easy to jump to Islamic conclusions, and far too easy to speculate the masterminds behind malevolent attacks and targeted violence towards the United States.

Image courtesy of The White House flickr stream
The Boston Marathon explosions currently has a death toll of 3 individuals, and the wounded stands at over 170 people. Unfortunately, the internet provided images of the wounded including a runner with both legs removed which appeared on Twitter. There is no privacy in tragedy, and little privacy within the public sphere of the internet. The internet also provided fumbling and inaccurate reports of the event, and made it easier for speculation to dominate Twitter feeds and Facebook pages.

The explosions occurred near the end of the race, and it is easy to assume that it was an attack designed for maximum impact and press coverage. This event itself is gathering more news coverage and web traffic than the gun deaths that have occurred in the United States since Newtown, which currently stands at a number of almost 3,500. The death toll in Boston could have stood at a devastating rate if the explosions had occurred earlier in the race, when runners were crowded together.

The investigation is also considering a domestic enemy, as home grown violence is not unheard of. Political acts of violence have resulted in some of the most disastrous events such as the Oklahoma Bombing in 1995, where the casualties reached a number of 168. Timothy McVeigh was the orchestrator of the detonation of a truck bomb due to his opposition to big government. It is also plausible that there could be no political motive, and no extremist view, an unsettling outcome could be that of the Sandy Hook massacre, where an individual purely sought notoriety through the deaths of 20 elementary school  children and claimed the lives of 6 adults. Motive, however, becomes slightly irrelevant when the end result remains the same.

The ground level video footage shows the moment of the blasts, and it's important to note that 78 year old Bill Illfrig, who was thrown to the ground on impact of the blasts, did indeed, finish the race. After 9/11, the resilience of the American people against acts of terror, be it foreign or domestic, is evident in their acts following the explosions. Some ran to the hospital to donate blood, and others ran back to the scene of impact, reliving the anguish and shedding their clothes in order to rush to aid the wounded.

Trying to piece together a calamitous narrative of a day that has historically been celebrated where families stand together and competitors stand victorious. The amateur journalists, the people hunting for information to share online, the Tweeters, and the Bostonians, are all simply clutching to any understanding they can find, and looking for answers.

Remember when I said the television footage was enough to make you want to turn it back off? Well you may find that you can't, because if you do you might find you have less understanding, and less hope. Disaster marathons. It's a term used to describe the media coverage following a tragic chain of events. But it's something people can't turn away from, and can't shut off, even after they turn over the channel.