Reading The Pictures is dedicated to the analysis of news photos and media images.
January 17, 2009

Picturing A Miracle (And/Or, Surviving The Crash Of Dubya Air Flight 43)

NEW YORK - JANUARY 15:  The statue of liberty stands in the background as rescue boats float next to a US Airways plane floating in the water after crashing into the Hudson River in the afternoon on January 15, 2008 in New York City. The Airbus 320 flight 1549 crashed shortly after take-off from LaGuardia Airport heading to Charlotte, North Carolina.   (Photo by Chris McGrath/Getty Images)

Just days before Obama’s inauguration, it’s hard not to equate the landing and rescue of US Air Flight 1549 on the Hudson River to the state of American politics.

If the disastrous Bush presidency is indelibly connected to the horror of two commercial aircraft slamming into New York’s World Trade Center, the poetic tendency, in light of Obama’s campaign of hope and “can do,” is to see “the miracle on the Hudson” as perhaps a precursor to a different kind of presidency — and outcome.

The tendency to, at least subconsciously, equate “the events of January 15, 2009 with September 11, 2001,” the ensuing “War On Terror,” and even the Wall Street meltdown, however, goes beyond just proximity to the inauguration and to lower Manhattan. It ties together because of the history and memory of place combined with the literal symbols involved. In this case, it’s New York’s skyline, and its harbor, and its monuments, and its institutions (such as the stock market) which represent essential markers of our psychic experience over the past eight years. And then, there’s also the fact that the commercial aircraft and aviation industries have so closely equated their brand(s) — nominally, physically as well as visually — with the American mission.



As a result, if you isolate on certain features of those otherwise wholly amazing and hope-inspiring rescue images in the harbor this week, you’ll clearly recognize Old Glory and Lady Liberty as fixtures in the background, or Old Glory and the name of our country (in a way we otherwise take completely for granted) as defining the skin of that plane.

Once you step back and see how it ties together, you get a better sense of how Thursday’s miracle — which also delivered New York a fresh, post-Dubya set of first-responders and disaster heros, by the way — helps land the idea, in the mind of the nation, of America surviving the previous crashes. And with that comes a sense that — with a whole new team in America’s capitol — we, too, might also come through.

(image 1: Chris McGrath/Getty Images; image 2: Bebeto Matthews/Associated Press image 3: REUTERS/Mike Segar)

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