April 15, 2013

On That Iconic Photo from the Boston Marathon Bombings

On That Iconic Photo from the Boston Marathon Bombings

Maybe the timing was botched and the aim was for something more spectacular and cataclysmic: world-class runners, politicians and city VIPs all eviscerated followed by days of televised feedback loops, like on 9/11. Instead, the two explosions on Boylston Street that occurred around four hours after the elite runners crossed the finish line is more likely to be characterized, as the shock wears off and the victims are ministered to, by “how much worse it could have been.”

While many are anticipating this was international terrorism (and sure, the facts might turn out that way), what this already widely-published picture reflects is primarily an attack on the weekend (not the state) warrior. Felled here is the modest citizen-athlete, the guy with a dream and a goal who is not out for glory but for the encouragement and satisfaction of personal achievement and fellowship. In our power-oriented culture with our professional and social media conflating everything into ever more dramatic terms, an attack that strikes the man far back in the pack or “the man in the street” is nowhere as significant as the impact to the high gloss event — though I’m sure the impact on the ground is more understandable to residents of Baghdad or Kabul or Aleppo.

At the same time, if this is the iconic photo of the day, the image doesn’t stop with the anonymous citizen but does, in fact, amplify how the world quickly enters the picture. If it was wonderful for runners to see the flags of the nations along the route today — like a boast about America as a crossroad and a melting pot — we all know how fast Americans can turn an event such as this into “us” versus “them.” Along those lines, let’s just hope that the presence of the Israeli flag as the most noticeable one here isn’t portentous of a Middle East factor — and if it is, we can move forward sanely. Because the last thing we need (all of us beyond weary over what paranoia can do) is a “hate scenario” spreading the cloud to international relations and immigration reform and gun control, and spurring greater domestic militarization, and beyond.

Update: I’m not completely sure it makes a difference in the larger scheme but the following tweet comes from John Edwin Mason: @BagNewsNotes You should know that the 78-year-old subject of the photo got up & finished second in his class. Makes a difference.

(photo: John Tlumacki—The Boston Globe/Getty Images. caption: April 15, 2013. Boston police officers react to a second explosion near the finish line of the 117th Boston Marathon.)

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Michael Shaw
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