AMES, Iowa -- While the horrific images of the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001, remain seared in the memories of many Americans, public remembrances of the tragedy have largely diminished the last few years. But this year's 10th anniversary will renew interest among Americans, according to Brian Monahan, an Iowa State University sociologist who authored a book on the media coverage of 9/11.
It already has. USA Today is running a weekly "How 9/11 Changed America" series. CNN is planning a 9/11 anniversary show, and other networks are likely doing the same.
Monahan says the media coverage following the May 2 death of Osama bin Laden during a U.S. military operation offered glimpses into what we can expect for the 10th anniversary.
"The media coverage in the aftermath of bin Laden's death was akin to a dress rehearsal for the coverage of the 10th anniversary [of 9/11]," said Monahan, assistant professor of sociology and author of "The Shock of the News: Media Coverage and the Making of 9/11" (March 2010, New York University Press).
"The coverage this spring prominently included themes of patriotism and heroic overcoming and sacrifice -- and sacrifice being worth it in the end," he said. "These are all core American ideals that were greatly emphasized in the wake of the attacks, and I think we'll really see them shape the anniversary coverage and public discourse this year."
While anniversary tributes are being planned around the country, the most notable will take place at the sites of the attacks in New York City, Washington, D.C., and Shanksville, Pa.
"I think what we'll see is a very refined celebratory message in the media coverage -- solemn in delivery at times, but by and large, the underlying message will be one of celebration of how far we have come since that day," he said.
Another key theme to look for in the anniversary coverage, according to Monahan, is the "symbolic politics of 9/11." Monahan anticipates presidential candidates may seek political gain through their participation in 9/11 events, too. He refers to this as "moral currency," a concept discussed in his book.
"In the book, I talk about how 9/11 has become a symbolic and practical resource. With that, there can be great benefit for those who positively associate themselves with key aspects of the attacks and their aftermath," Monahan said. "You want to get it [linkage] without looking like you're trying to get it, because if it looks too crass, then people might reject it.
"We've seen this in a variety of ways with 9/11," he continued. "In the book, I demonstrate how this happened with the firefighters and a host of politicians and public figures, as well as in sports, advertising and popular culture. For instance, everybody used to give a lot of grief to [Rudy] Giuliani for constantly referencing 9/11, but it was about his keeping that connection strong and in the forefront."
Both political parties may look to score points with Americans during this year's anniversary events, particularly since it may be their last chance to have a 9/11 stage this big. Monahan suspects the overt indicators of public interest in 9/11, such as media coverage and large-scale public memorials, will gradually wane after this year's anniversary, although it will never be entirely forgotten -- particularly in some big public policy debates.
"To me, those processes will be the lasting impact [of 9/11]," he continued. "So past the 10th anniversary, it's in the arenas of symbolic politics where 9/11 will still matter and be used to great effect. And who knows how long. I can't really predict that, but I think the fervent interest in the bin Laden coverage and the extensive coverage planned for this year indicate its continued potency as a symbolic commodity and cultural resource."
Monahan's book is available for purchase online at its
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