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I Can't Forget
in no way, have a photographic memory. I do not usually pick up on
the specifics, and if I do, I do not easily commit them to memory.
It takes something with an incredible impact, something with strong,
moving images, that evoke seriously ill or exciting or terrific personal
feelings. There have been events I have witnessed, not in-person,
but with my eyes through a tube we call television, that evoked such
emotions. The criterion for feeling such a way is the blatant display
of catastrophe-- a terrific viewing of lack of survival in the events
I am going to describe.
Television is merciless in showing me things that I find disturbing, upsetting,
or, in my opinion, unnecessary. I realize that with television being a medium
of visual images, it has shown me images that I cannot ever forget.
I sat in my fourth grade classroom in 1985 amidst my classmates. We sat surrounding
the television, supervised by my teacher, a former air force pilot, and were
anxious to see our first launching of the Challenger space shuttle. My teacher.
Mr. Rogan, had informed us that there would a be a special astronaut, a science
teacher named Christa McCauliffe who was part of a teachers-in-space program.
Mr. Rogan said that he had been a part of that at one time, but because he
had received his at-present teaching position, he declined the opportunity
for further training.
We all eagerly awaited the launch, reciting the countdown with the clock. When
blastoff came we were all so excited that we clapped and cheered and gave each
other hi-fives. In my recollection, I can still feel the excitement at the
moment, even remember wanting to be an astronaut myself, until Mr. Rogan
shouted "No!" We all looked back at the television to see the image
that burned itself into my mind. The clouds of smoke, the streaks of falling
shrapnel against the sky, that fell into the ocean. My first reaction was to
try to figure out if any of them had gotten out before the explosion. My teacher,
stood there, sobbing, and at that point I had never seen a grown-up cry. I
did not know how to react, but I just sat there in my chair with my head sunk,
like all of my other classmates.
I wanted to believe that the astronauts were all right--and being a young idealist,
I thought that somehow they had miraculously escaped alive. This image also
forced me consider what a violent death might have felt like. By the end of
the day, most of the students were incredibly upset, as was I. I kept thinking:
What if it had been Mr. Rogan? In fact, because most of the students in the
school had watched the explosion, the principal sent us home an hour early
that day. That type of violent death disturbed me as a young child and a fear,
a sick pit in my stomach, persisted for a long time for my teacher--that could
have been him in the shuttle.
Violent images have a tendency to stick with me. I know that television could
not have prevented the showing of the explosion. The sudden death of several
people watched by millions also upset me. Their families watched them die with
the rest of us. It seemed unfair, and cruel, but unavoidable. Another image
that relates to the Challenger, in my mind, is the Middle East Gulf conflict
That year, I was usually more concerned with more materialistic things--like
which New Kid on the Block was the cutest, which soap operas would win daytime
Emmys, and which clothes I should buy to make my fashion statement, but my
mom could not pry me from the television the night the United States bombed
Baghdad. The Gulf war had, interestingly, a dual effect on me. The bright
flashes of the scud missiles hitting the city frightened, yet intrigued me.
It instilled a sense of fear, but a sense of American pride. These events constituted
the first warfare in my lifetime that I was old enough to understand. The media
called the invasion of Iraq a war and made Saddam Hussein an enemy,
but they showed us actually firing upon the enemy. I suppose the same
was done for the Vietnam war, but this had an effect on me. I did not want
to see the war, but I liked the fact that everyone I saw became more patriotic.
Musicians, people I identified with and looked up to, started to wear yellow
ribbons, and that summer there was a mass production of stickers with yellow
ribbons. They were distributed throughout my high school my freshman year.
The entire televised war was cause for discussion in every classroom, and suddenly
I saw a wave of nationalism.
I saw celebrities call for peace in the Middle East, but they continued to
revel in our whomping of the enemy. Everyone was proud to be an American. After
all, we went in there and kicked Saddam's ass, right??? I have to admit that
I bought into the fact that it was necessary for US. troops to be there. I
watched the burning oil fields and the missiles, I wanted something to stop
the violence. Now I feel it was a ploy on President Bush's part to get re-elected,
but it was all of cosmetic--whatever looked good. Though I am a bit more cynical
now toward politics, I truly saw how the United States rallied in pride, at
least in my community. Ironic, as it may be. Two years later I went to a national
Key Club convention in New Orleans. During one of the sessions, a Gulf War
veterans choir came to sing "Proud to Be an American." We were all
so touched by these soldiers, to that day it had an affect on me, to some extent
it still does. I also think that television as taught us to value people in
uniform, those people who visibly represent their duty; especially men in military
uniforms. I feel we have been conditioned to see them as strong, brave warriors
on the behalf of an entire nation.
The older I became, social issues tied themselves more to images and I began
to recognize the correlation. Images came to hit home just a little bit harder
when I saw Rodney King being beaten by Los Angeles policemen. The videotape
shown on national news was sickening. Being that I went to a very racially
diverse high school, I was very much affected. This catastrophe forced the
students in my school to face racial issues and tensions. There were race wars
in my high school for months afterwards. Knife fights between the black kids
and white kids in the hallways. It was scary, and down-right dangerous to be
there. Although all students involved were expelled, the tension remained.
I wanted to believe that I was not a part of the social structure that caused
it, but I there was no way I could denounce myself as a Caucasian. Liking it
or not, I was involved--we all were. "Can't we all just get along?" rang
through our teachers lessons, but as much as we all wanted to learn in peace,
none of us believed that we were individually responsible. We had an assembly
shortly after the Los Angeles riots occurred, and the principal moderated a
discussion among 1,000 students regarding racism in school. A theory arose,
that if a guy wore a dirty white hat to school, then that was a symbol that
he believed in white supremacy. I cannot help to think that if this was truth
in my high school, that is this a universal symbol for white supremacy. For
this reason, I never wear white hats.
The Los Angeles riots were an eye-opening experience for me. At the time, I
was dating a guy in high school that is black. It was a strain on our little
relationship to watch this together. I could not imagine his pain yet I could
not ignore it either. The whole Rodney King/L.A. Riots situation caused my
fellow students to scrutinize me. The images of burning buildings and broken
windows scared me into thinking, for a brief moment, that my boyfriend could
be capable of these acts of rage. Though I did not want to say anything, I
feared being alone with him, someone, who at one time, I found to be the most
trusting, caring person. I disgusted myself that I could think that way, and
when something that visually intimidating gets under my skin, I let it affect
me. Just when I thought color did not matter, all of a sudden it did.
There are many things that did not affect me until I saw them on television.
I remember in 1992, Magic Johnson announced his HIV status. I looked at a basketball
legend that meant a lot to me (I played point guard in high school and I looked
up to him) and saw that he was going to die. I did not understand how, so I
did some independent research. As soon as he announced that he was HIV positive,
every newspaper began to legitimize the disease and published explanations
and statistics. Being so quickly educated on the severity of HIV and AIDS,
I began to pick the subject for my term papers and became the HIV and AIDS
expert. However, I was never satisfied with the amount of information I received,
I wanted to know more, I wanted an answer, and I wanted a cure. I always, still
do, need to know more. When Ryan White died, I realized that you did not need
to be a junkie or a whore to get the virus. It frightened me so much because
I had multiple surgeries in the early eighties where I needed blood transfusions.
If anything, I think that television has a knack for scaring me, almost to
the point where it changes my life. Though I would love to blame the media
for these catastrophes affecting my life, I know it was the events themselves.
However, the imagery that I recall is enough to reinstill the fear in me each
time I think about it. To this moment, someone says "NASA," I think
of the Challenger explosion. I cant think of the City of Angels without thinking
about communities destroyed and my community, a nation away, being affected.
As I said right-off, my recall on many things is not the best, but these are
images I cannot forget.
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