Saturday, September 03, 2011

September 11 retrospective: Random opinions mostly from people who don't know what they're talking about (no, I don't mean our star pundits this time)

The PBS Newshour YouTube channel has been running a series of stereotypical "person on the street" interviews on 9/11. To me, their main interest is in the somewhat dubious value of such reports. Especially when the clips are presented with no explanation of the context. I've been interviewed every now and then by someone doing one of these on-the-street compilations. Since it's a surprise, you don't really have time to prepare. I generally try to keep my responses short, uncomplicated and, if appropriate, put in a touch of humor.

My assumption is that most people who agree to do these interviews are focusing on keeping their responses in the range of what they consider "safe." There's also no way for the viewer to know in most of these whether they're hearing from an "average" person (whatever that may mean!) who doesn't spend a lot of time thinking about the issue at hand or, at the other extreme, someone who may be actively committed to a position on the issue. As Rick Perlstein has pointed out recently, it's been the style of Tea Party-style rightwing activist group to present themselves as jus' reglar folks who recently became involved in politics, even when they may have immersed themselves for years in a particular perspective on the subject.

Here's one clip of a woman in Seattle:

It's hard to know what to make of this.

She doesn't come across in her mannerisms like a paranoid to my non-medical eyes and ears. But she says at the start that since 9/11, "it just makes you think of everything around you, it makes you think of everyone around you, it makes you think of, when I go in a room, or on a plane, who's with me, and if something happens, what can I do." She concludes the thought by saying it "makes me live every moment now." Really? Every time she goes into a room?! That sounds more like a case of PTSD than a remotely rational response to the threat of terrorism. But in her subsequent comments on the balance between civil liberties and security, she gives what sounds like the reflective response of someone who has a basic grasp of the issues and is genuinely conflicted by her thoughts and experiences with it. It's interesting to hear. But it doesn't really hang together. It leaves me mainly wanting to say, "You worry every time you walk into a room? Really?!?"

Here's a woman from Oklahoma who apparently works for a pest control firm who distinguishes between "Muslims" and "Americans" in the context of racial profiling. She doesn't sound paranoid. She just sounds like a cheap bigot. It's probably reasonable to conclude that this kind of talk sounds "safe" to her. I can imagine what she says when she's not being interviewed by a television station.

I'm guessing she wouldn't consider Deena Kuko from somewhere in California a Real American:

But here again, without knowing something more about the person's background, it's a little hard to know what to make of this. This woman very articulate, more so than many of our politicians. She's wearing a conservative head covering and identifies herself as Arab and a native-born American.

This New Yorker sounds like a likable guy in this brief clip. He conveys a sense of decency and good will. But he's also giving the kind of "safe" answer I would probably give to an on-the-street interviewer on a subject on which I wasn't terribly familiar. Also the kind of safe answer you might give to avoid saying you really don't know that much about it.

Then there the kind of "safe" answer a beauty pageant contestant would be expected to give:

Here's an African-American woman who clearly likes the idea of a police state:

Does she really think Big Brother is her friend? Or does she just not get out a lot?

This seems more like a well-spoken college student's idea of a safe answer:

Here's a young guy who admits he doesn't get out very much - he's never flown on a plane, he says - and is basically clueless. He also looks like he was probably about 10 years old in 2001, so his personal testimony of how 9/11 have made him more apprciative of life isn't that convicing:

Here we have someone saying airport security is different now that it was 10 years ago:

And this is "quality" journalism from public television.


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