"The live broadcasting of television events attracts the largest
audiences in the history of the world. Lest we be misunderstood, we
are talking about audiences as large as 500 million people attending
to the same stimulus at the same time, at the moment of its emission.
It is conceivable that there were cumulative audiences of this size
prior to the electronic age - for the Bible, for example. Perhaps
one might have been able to say that there were several hundred
million people alive on earth who had read, or heard tell of, the
same Book. But it was not until radio broadcasting - and home radio
receivers - that simultaniety of exposure became possible. The
enormity of this audience, together with the awareness by all of its
enormity, is awesome. It is all the more awesome when one realizes
that the subject of these broadcasts is ceremony, the sort which
anthropologists would find familiar if it were not for the scale.
Some of these ceremonies are so all-encompassing that there is nobody
left to serve as an out-group. 'We Are the World' is certainly the
appropriate theme song for media events. To enthrall such a multitude
is no mean feat; to enlist their assent defies all of the caveats of
media-effects research...Like religious holidays, major media events
mean an interruption of routine, days off from work, norms of
participation in ceremony and ritual, concentration on some central
value, the experience of communitas and equality in one's immediate
environment and of integration with a cultural center. The reverent
tones of the ceremony, the dress and demeanor of those gathered in
front of the set, the sense of communion with the mass of viewers,
are all reminiscent of holy days...Passive spectatorship gives way
to ceremonial participation. The depth of this involvement, in turn,
has relevance for the formation of public opinion and for
institutions such as politics, religion, and leisure. In a further
step, they enter the collective memory."
- Daniel Dayan and Elihu Katz, Media Events: The Live Broadcasting
of History (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1992)
Questions to consider
- Dayan and Katz draw an analogy between "media events" and
religious ceremonies. In what sense might we see the media coverage
of the WTC tragedy as having a religious overtone?
- What words, language, or practices link the news coverage to the
practice of religion?
- What is seen as sacred or taboo within this new, perhaps temporary,
set of religious beliefs?
- What new rituals or sacred spaces have emerged from this event?
- How might the religious overtones of the media event help people
cope with their feelings of mourning and loss?
- What aspects of the news coverage might contradict this religious
framing of the events?
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